Giro Rosa countdown: Everything doesn't hinge on one rider, says Guarnier

Megan Guarnier says that the Boels Dolmans team will miss defending champion Anna van der Breggen at this year's Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile, but believes that they have the strength and depth to cover for the loss. Also the current WorldTour leader, Van der Breggen has decided to skip the Giro in favour of riding the Val di Sole mountain bike World Cup this weekend.

"Anna is the defending champion and she would have been a strong contender on this course but she is doing some other things to keep her mind fresh for the remainder of the year and I think that one of Boels' strengths is that we can still race as a team and we can still go in confident because we're a team. It's not just one rider that everything hinges on," Guarnier told Cyclingnews on Monday evening.

"Going for the GC is a big thing for the team and I think that there are a lot of opportunities in the team for other stage wins and other jerseys. There are going to be seven women there with seven goals."

It is a sign of just how strong the team is that even without Van der Breggen and Lizzie Deignan, who is currently taking a sabbatical while she is pregnant, the team can still boast reigning world champion Chantal Blaak, and Ronde van Drenthe winner and Tour of Flanders podium finisher, Amy Pieters among its starters on Friday. With Van der Breggen not racing, the general classification challenge falls to Guarnier.

The 33-year-old took overall victory during a bumper 2016 season, beating her teammate Evelyn Stevens and Van der Breggen, who was racing with Rabo Liv at the time. Her past victory puts her instantly into the elite group of pre-race favourites. However, her road to this point in the year has not been an easy one as she continues to deal with the after-effects of the broken jaw she suffered at the World Championships in Bergen last year.

The injury has not yet healed, and she has had plenty of medical appointments to keep up. She will also require a second surgery on her jaw at the end of the season. Despite it, she managed a podium finish at Flèche Wallonne, overall victory at the Tour de Yorkshire and several top-10 placings over the spring. It took its toll, however.

"I think I had a pretty successful spring, especially considering all the injuries and challenges that I had coming off 2017," Guarnier said. "Everything just caught up with me with the broken jaw and all the appointments around that and having to stretch my fitness out for so long. I was ready to take a break during the Tour of California, my body told me that.

"I had doctor's appointments in two different countries around Yorkshire and the Tour of California. I had a doctor's appointment in the Netherlands before Yorkshire and then I flew to New York and then I had more appointments in Boston and then I had to fly to California. There's a lot going on and it didn't always have to do with bike racing, it had to do with health."

Finding form and having fun

Guarnier took a disappointing 20th overall at the Tour of California but bounced back with an aggressive ride to second place at the US Pro Road Nationals behind Coryn Rivera. Though she was disappointed with the end result, she left happy with how she'd performed.

"We were a two-person team and we needed to race to our strengths, and we did that, and we were hoping that other people would also race to their strengths. I guess it wasn't as negative as last year but I would have liked to see be a bit more dynamic," Guarnier explained.

"I was happy with my form at nationals, really disappointed with the result but I went out there and raced and I was really happy with how I rode. Now, it's just about getting over the jet-lag and trying to keep the legs stimulated. I'm not going to gain anything between now and the Giro."

Guarnier is currently based in France and heads across to Italy on Wednesday ahead of the Giro's start in Verbania on Friday. Given her challenging start to the year, Guarnier is not heaping too much pressure on herself by pinpointing an exact goal. For her, it’s about enjoying herself and the results will follow.

"A good result will be that I had a really fun race with my team. After the past year, and the challenges of the spring with the weather, the cold and my jaw, if I can come out of the Giro and say that I had a lot of fun, we raced really hard, I think that’s the most that I can ask for,” Guarnier told Cyclingnews.

"I'm not going to put too much pressure on myself and the team. In a 10-day stage race, you have to keep a positive attitude. We’ve done it before and it’s not easy to do when you’re that tired. If I can come out of this race and think we went out there and we raced hard and I have no regrets and I had fun along the way then that’s important for me.

"I’m taking it one day at a time. It’s a really hard Giro, and we’re going with a really strong team. Of course, I’ll be looking at the overall but it is a really hard race to say that you want to win the overall, especially as we haven’t seen climbs like this all year. I don’t think, to be honest, we’ve ever seen climbs like this. There is a lot of climbing in this Giro but there are also a lot of flat stages and I think that we’ve got a really strong team."

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Born in Ireland to a cycling family and later moved to the Isle of Man, so there was no surprise when I got into the sport. Studied sports journalism at university before going on to do a Masters in sports broadcast. After university I spent three months interning at Eurosport, where I covered the Tour de France. In 2012 I started at Procycling Magazine, before becoming the deputy editor of Procycling Week. I then joined Cyclingnews, in December 2013.