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Student of Cycling

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Back in March, Megan Guarnier of the Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team soloed to victory in the inaugural women’s Strade Bianche in Italy. The landmark victory brought a long-lasting lesson for the American racer.

“It was my first one-day big win against the top field,” Guarnier said. “That gave me confidence that, yes, I can do this. I can hold off these other women to the line. I’ve done it once, why can’t I do it again? It empowers me in that respect.”

Indeed, since then she’s beaten many of the world’s best on multiple occasions. In May, Guarnier sprinted to victory at the USA Cycling Pro Road Nationals. In June, she took Stage 1 of the Euskal Emakumeen Bira in Spain. On Sunday, Guarnier won Stage 2 of the Giro Rosa and took the overall lead in one of the world’s most important stage races for women. Guarnier, 30, this season has establishing herself as a key player on the Boels-Dolmans team, whether she’s going for victory herself or setting up a teammate.

Megan Guarnier took the leader's pink jersey Sunday with a stage win at the Giro Rosa. Photo ©Balint Hamvas Cyclephotos

Cycling Roots in Green Mountains

A former standout swimmer and accomplished student (high school valedictorian with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience), Guarnier found her passion for cycling in college and has studied the sport ever since. She grew up near Lake George, N.Y., on the edge of the Adirondack Mountains. But it was in Vermont’s Green Mountains where she fell in love with cycling. For 13 years her focus was on competitive swimming. She went to Middlebury College in Vermont expecting to swim until shoulder problems derailed her plans.

“I did a couple of triathlons and cycling was my week point,” she said. Someone in her dorm suggested she try to a collegiate bike race.

Sunday's Giro Rosa stage win was only the latest victory by Megan Guarnier against top compeition this season. Below, a moment of rest after the stage. Both photos ©Balint Hamvas Cyclephotos

She was hooked. It didn’t hurt that the president of the Middlebury Cycling Team at the time was Ted King, who’d go on to have a full career in the European peloton.

“I remember talking to him. He’s talking about becoming a pro and I had no idea what that meant,” Guarnier said of her first conversations with King. “Then when I graduated I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to turn pro, too.’ In my mind that just meant a free bike. Yeah, I want a bike I want to be pro.” She added that King still sends her congratulatory messages when she has a good result.

Collegiate cycling – where men’s and women’s points are combined to determine team omnium winners through USA Cycling – was a perfect fit for Guarnier. “It’s just a great environment because everybody is out there cheering for you,” Guarnier said. “It’s a very supportive environment because the men are there for the women. Women have a harder time getting into the sport. (The men) are enthusiastic about bringing women in because women’s points count toward the team points, which I think, is a great setup. They encourage women to come out, and they’re helpful.”

Guarnier enjoys the competition, and lighthearted moments. ©Balint Hamvas Cyclephotos

Lessons on the Road

As with most newbie cyclists, Guarnier faced a steep learning curve once she embraced cycling. “I remember my first time trying to change a tube on the side of the road. It probably took me a half hour. I knew the steps, but I just hadn’t done it.”

These days, Guarnier carefully selects her equipment. She’s been riding SRAM RED for most of her career. “The gear options that we have are really great,” she said. “You have the (11-)25s to the 28s, and beyond (11-30 and 11-32 WiFLi). I always like having those options, and after many years of racing I know just what cassette I want for that given race.”

Guarnier’s go-to wheel is the 45mm-deep Zipp 303 Firecrest. They’re super light and super stiff. Sometimes you lose a bit of stiffness when you go for the smaller rims, but with the 303s you have the lightness for the climbing and then there still there for the sprint.”

An all-around rider with a snappy sprint, Guarnier lives in France during the season. She enjoys the international atmosphere of Boels-Dolmans. She also talks excitedly about the gaining momentum of women’s cycling, including more races in the United States for women.

“When people watch our races for the first time or come to a race, they’re just floored by how exciting it is. I’ve had people come up after (U.S. pro) nationals who have really just watched women’s racing… for the first time and they’re like, ‘that was such a cool race!’ I’m like, ‘Yes. We have tactics. We have strength. We have the all-around riders.”

Guarnier has excelled as a member of the Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team, an international squad based in the Netherlands that rides SRAM components, Zipp wheels, bars, stems and seatposts, and Quarq power measurement. ©Balint Hamvas Cyclephotos

Top photo of Guarnier at the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic is ©Darrell Parks Photography

 

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