Megan Guarnier wins Euskal Emakumeen Bira stage one; Kasia Niewiadoma moves into race lead

by Jessi Braverman

Newly-crowned American national road champion Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) continued her successful season by winning the first road stage of Euskal Emakumeen Bira on Thursday. It is the American’s third victory of the year and the 12th for her Dutch-registered team.

“I’m a very consistent rider,” Guarnier told Ella CyclingTips. “My whole career, I have been consistent. I’m just higher up in the results consistently this year. I’ve had some really nice results, and that’s part of how Boels-Dolmans works. Everyone gets an opportunity, and you need to take those opportunities.”

“It’s also years of growing,” she added. “It’s learning the races, learning the riders and learning my abilities. It’s all starting to pay off for me.”

Guarnier outsprinted former Bira champion Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) and Ashleigh Moolman (Bigla) to the line, but it was Rabo-Liv’s Kasia Niewiadoma who pulled on the race leader’s jersey thanks to her ride in the prologue on Wednesday night.

Euskal Emakumeen Bira 2015 (2.1) stage -1

“It was a bit of a technical sprint,” said Guarnier, who was the first of the four to make a real push toward the line. “There was a lot of road furniture.”

The stage was not without a bit of drama and controversy. A four-women breakaway of Guarnier, Moolman, Johansson and Niewiadoma had taken shape over the day’s largest climb to Kurtzeta, and as the four leaders attacked their way into town, they were taken off course by the motorbike.

“Well, it was funny because we tried to look at the finish before the race, and we couldn’t work it out,” explained Guarnier. “I heard other teams had the same difficulty in trying to preview the finish. I guess the difficulties were legitimate because even the race [officials] didn’t know the direction of the race.”

Guarnier and company were taken to a dead-end, and then the motorbike became turned around as it attempted to bring the race leaders back onto the course.

“They were bringing us back to the course when we saw the whole peloton roll by,” Guarnier explained. “My heart kind of sank. I was like: ‘All that work….’”

Race officials decided to neutralise the stage and re-started the leaders with the 1:20 advantage they had over the bunch at the time they were led off course.

“When we rode into the wrong direction, I was afraid all our effort had been for nothing,” said Niewiadoma in her team’s race report. “It was fantastic that the organizers neutralised the race and gave us our lead back.”

Prior to the chaotic finish, the the first hour of racing had been relatively quiet, with no break attempts reported before the major climb. Having won the prologue, Annemiek van Vleuten (Bigla) began the stage in yellow, and her Bigla team assumed responsibility for the pace-making heading into the eight kilometre climb.

“It was basically sit-in and wait for the climb today,” noted Guarnier. “None of the big teams were making any moves because everyone was waiting. There were some people going for the intermediate sprints, but other than that, there was no real action.”

On the climb, the peloton shattered. The leading group of 20 became a seven-rider front group. Then five. Then two. Niewiadoma and Moolman led over the summit with a gap to Guarnier and Johnasson. Anna Sanchis (Wiggle Honda) and Tetyana Riabchenko (Inpa Sottoli Giusfredi) chased the duo just ahead.

“Moolman and Kasia went about a kilometre to go,” said Guarnier. “I was pretty well tried, but I know after that climb that it was a bit rolling, so I didn’t panic so much. Emma was really driving it over the top, and we made it back to Moolman and Kasia.”

“We weren’t really working well together at all,” Guarnier added. “We all had teammates behind us who were general classification contenders or it wasn’t looking good for that mix of riders.”

Sanchis and Riabchenko eventually bridged the distance to the leading quartet, which led to further disorganisation amongst the leaders.

“They started attacking us, which made us even less disorganised,” Guarnier said. “Somehow the gap kept going up. Eventually it got to over a minute, and we had the cars come. We started working in a more pull-for-pull way after that.”

Before reaching the bottom of the descent, Sanchis and Riabchenko would lose contact and Johansson would put in a small attack. A front group of four reached the flat run-in to town – at which point they were led off course.

Guarnier won the four-up sprint, and Riabchenko and Sanchis coming to the line 20 seconds later. Lucinda Brand (Rabo-Liv) brought home a chase group of eight at 1:37.

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