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  • Megan Guarnier: head of the class

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    The Boels-Dolmans star and Voxwomen Rider of the Year talks WorldTour victory, anxiety and how she became women cycling’s most complete racer

    Photographs: BrakeThrough Media & Marshall Kappel

    We caught up with inaugural women’s WorldTour winner Megan Guarnier at the Rouleur Classic to discuss her stunning 2016 season, hours before she received her Voxwomen Road Rider of the Year award.

     

    Rouleur: Did you surprise yourself with your Tour of California and Giro d’Italia wins?
    Megan Guarnier: This whole season has been a bit of a surprise for me. I don’t think it was for my coaches or the people who have been along for the ride, because we’re finally seeing all the fruits of my labour.

     

    So what changed, if anything?

    Nothing changed. 2015 was my best season up to the end of last year, and there’s this idea that you should change everything, that you need to do something more. But I have a very levelheaded coach [Corey Hart], who was like ‘why would we change things since they’re working?’ It’s just been the progression.

     

    You’ve always seen yourself as an all-rounder. What skills have you had to develop over the years?

    Cycling is so diverse, so even if you think you’re good at something, you always need to be better. It’s putting every piece of the puzzle together.

     

    When I first started racing, I thought I was a mountain climber. But I went into Terry Precision and the team director said ‘no Megan, you’re a sprinter.’ I was like ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with sprints, those things are dangerous.’

     

    She took me to the Tour of Prince Edward Island and said I had to participate in every intermediate sprint. I didn’t want to, but I did. I showed myself: ‘I guess I am a sprinter.’

     

    I came to Europe in 2008 and learned that you can’t really sprint if you’re not there at the finish, so I needed to re-learn how to do the longer climbs. I kind of turned myself into this climber and then in the meantime, everybody kind of forgot I could sprint. And then in the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to put that all together.

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    What was the crucial moment in your 2016 Giro win?

    It’s all about the teamwork in a ten-day race, but I guess it was the time-trial, finishing it and coming out with the pink jersey. In 2015, I had lost the lead after the time-trial. I was devastated: I was so close, I had the best time-trial of my life. I had a whole year to think about and simmer on that.

     

    You’ve mentioned previously that you get quite anxious before races. What about? 

    Everything. There’s a lot to worry about. There’s pressure on you to win a race, whether it’s a dangerous race, a dangerous corner or a dangerous descent, how I’m going to perform on a climb, executing a specific talent. At the same time, I think it’s important to worry about those things because that helps you perform.

     

    You didn’t initially have this profession in mind as a youngster, did you?

    I was studying neuroscience [at Middlebury College, Vermont]. It sounds really weird, but I love reading textbooks. If I don’t know the textbook inside and out and am able to apply it, then I’m not confident in it.

     

    I was notorious for doing 13-hour library sessions – I’m pretty intense. I would try to get out on the bike as much as possible as a juxtaposition, going climbing and exploring. Being out and being places I never would have gone. It opened my eyes to the sport and made me fall in love with it.

     

    I love academia. When I’m done with cycling, I would like to go back for an MD-PhD. But I’m 31 years old so at some point, maybe I have to pick one or the other.

     

     

    Are you setting a time limit on your cycling career?

    Well… when I graduated from college, I said I would give myself one year to be a professional cyclist. And we’re ten years into this!

     

    At the end of every season, I say ‘do I want to continue doing this? Is it still fun?’ The second it stops being fun, I think it’s time to move on because there are other things in life.