It was clear in the early spring that Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) was gearing up for some season. She took second at the Trofeo Binda, fourth in Flanders and third at La Fleche Wallonne, and she was just warming up.
Since May, the 31-year-old American has been on a winning streak, claiming the overall victory at the Amgen Women’s Tour of California, her third American national road race title in North Carolina, the Philadelphia Classic and, last week, the Maglia Rosa at women’s cycling’s only grand tour, the Giro Rosa.
She’s not showing any signs of slowing down either, not until an Olympic medal hangs from her neck.
Women’s cycling new leader
Due to her recent successes, Guarnier now tops the UCI world ranking, becoming the first American to ever lead the chart.
“I am feeling many things,” Guarnier told Ella CyclingTips. “First, I don’t feel any different, I feel like the same Megan who is putting in the work and the hard hours and still making the sacrifices. At the same time, when I take a step back and look at how far I have come and remember that Megan who experienced her first European races in 2008, I feel incredibly proud.”
Hard work and patience
Guarnier’s success has been a long time coming and one that can be attributed to steady progression.
Guarnier got her first taste of European racing in 2008 when she came to the spring classics with Team USA and experienced anything but a breakout performance.
“I only finished maybe a handful of races. I was getting dropped,” she recalled. “I could have thrown up my hands and given up but instead it inspired me. After that block, I came home and just worked. I choose to take the next step to push myself and move outside of my comfort zone.”
By 2010 Guarnier had secured herself a pro contract with the American team Tibco. Two years later, she earned her first of what would become three national road race titles in five years, as well as a spot on the Dutch Rabobank team alongside Marianne Vos.
“There is no direct path to success in cycling, I have to attribute a lot of my success to my support network –‘my village’– who have been there for me every step of the way. It wouldn’t have been possible without their unwavering belief in me and the tireless hours they have also put into helping me realize my dreams,” said Guarnier. “When I think of it this way, it is really hard to believe that I am the same Megan that was getting dropped in all the 2008 spring classics.”
Perhaps her best career choice was transferring to Boels-Dolmans at the end of 2013, where DS Danny Stam saw Guarnier’s potential.
“When I joined Boels-Dolmans, I definitely saw myself as an all-arounder domestique. Danny saw that there was more in me, and has pushed me to realise my potential,” said Guarnier.
Like Guarnier’s success, the incredible domination of the orange Boels-Dolmans squad this season hasn’t come overnight — it’s a result of steady progress and 100 percent team commitment.
“Danny has put together an incredible group of women. On Boels-Dolmans, all the work you put into the team, you get back,’ said Guarnier. “We have a very special environment that has been cultivated over the years which has contributed to our success. There is a respect among each of the women for everyone’s abilities and talents and we support each other in reaching our personal goals.”
As part of the Boels-Dolmans team, Guarnier enjoyed some breakthrough results last season starting with a win at Strade Bianche, an incredible run in pink at the Giro Rosa, and ending with the automatic qualification for the Rio Olympics by earning bronze in the UCI World Championship road race in Richmond.
The key to success, as Guarnier and the Boels-Dolmans team continue to demonstrate, is simple: hard work and patience.
“There seems to be this belief that there has been some change in my routine, but the progression has worked. My coach [Corey Hart] has always focused on progression. Of course the progression never happened quickly enough for me, and my coach had to continually remind me that it takes time, practice, and most of all patience. We can see now, that his plan has worked,” said Guarnier.
The quest for the Maglia Rosa
Guarnier’s progression as a rider is perhaps most apparent in the General Classification of the Giro Rosa, women’s cycling’s only grand tour.
2013 – 15th place
2014 – 7th place
2015 – 3rd place
2016 – 1st place
Last year’s Giro Rosa was an emotional rollercoaster for Guarnier, who after a six-day stint in the pink jersey, lost it to Anna van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv) on the second to last day.
“It was a dream to be in the pink jersey, and I didn’t actually believe it was possible until I pulled it on after Stage 2. It was heartbreaking to lose the jersey in the time trial,” Guarnier recalled. “I came into this year with a new determination to take the pink jersey home.”
This year’s success, was an important win for Guarnier, who’s now only one of two Americans –next to Mara Abbott– to have ever won the Italian tour.
“For me, it was mostly about proving to myself that I could do it. Last year, I had the pink jersey into the time trial, and then lost it in the time trial. This year, I entered the time trial in a similar situation, and I kept the pink. Of course there was a lot on my mind going into the time trial but when I finished and kept the jersey, it was a very special moment for me,” said Guarnier.
“I can give a lot of credit of this win to my support network, coaches, my teammates, and the team management. They saw in me a Giro Rosa winner, and they believed in me, and supported me. Last year, it didn’t work out, and I am fortunate that they continued to support me and bolster me towards this dream.”
When Guarnier crossed the finish line in third at the World Championship road race in Richmond last fall, she secured a ticket to the Rio Olympics. This allowed Guarnier to prepare for the pinnacle event of women’s racing without the added stress of having to make national selection.
Adding the confidence of her wining streak and rise to the UCI world ranking, Guarnier might be Team USA’s best bet for a medal in the Olympic road race, something the sport hasn’t seen since Connie Carpenter won the very first women’s Olympic road race in 1984.
“I am trying to approach Rio like any other goal race, and focus on being my best for that day. I might sound like a broken record, but right now, I am keeping ‘my village’ close and believing in the process,” said Guarnier.
That calm confidence doesn’t mean she’s immune to all nerves, however, and Guarnier admits that she, too, is a little intimidated by the course.
“Rio de Janeiro is the most diverse, challenging courses I have ever seen in a single day race – I love this challenge but of course it makes me nervous,” she said. “But for me, any race I show up to instills some kind of nerves. I believe, when you stop being nervous for event, then you have stopped caring.”