In his 2008 book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell said that to become an expert at something, a person must practice it for 10,000 hours. A month later, Geoff Colvin published his own theory, making the bold statement that 'talent is overrated' and that focused practice plus time - over DNA - is what makes someone great at something.
Rather than Gladwell's 10,000 hours, Colvin wrote that it would take 10 years for someone to become truly great at something. This train of thought is something that appeals to Megan Guarnier, who, after years of 'chipping away,' enjoyed a banner season in 2016.
Guarnier, who rides for Boels Dolmans, has been moderately successful in recent seasons but last year surpassed everything she could have hoped for. The American raced just 36 days but was victorious on almost a fifth of them, including successes at the Tour of California, the Giro d'Italia and the Philadelphia Classic.
"If you look at how many years I've been doing this, really putting everything into this sport, it has been 10 years, and maybe there is something in that philosophy," Guarnier tells Cyclingnews.
"As far as I can tell, there were no big changes. Last year was my third year with Boels, I've had the same coach for nine years, and it has just been about chipping away at my weaknesses and continuing to work on my strengths and never taking anything in this sport for granted. With all of that, and the support that I have within my team, it just all came together for me in 2016.
"For me, last season is still a dream. It was part of my progression and when I look back at what I achieved it was more than I ever thought that I could have."
Staying at the top
The challenge for Guarnier will be to maintain her level coming into 2017.
It has been an all too short off-season after she pushed her 2016 campaign right to the death, with the World Championships in Qatar at the start of October her final outing - something that took a lot out of the US national champion. "I'm really feeling the effect of not having that extra month," she says.
There have been some opportunities to relax with friends and family over Thanksgiving and Christmas, but things have ramped up again in recent weeks with several trips to Europe for training camps and a 30-hour journey to the Netherlands for the team's presentation last month. The back and forth has taken its toll, and the poor weather in California, where she lives when she's not competing in Europe, hasn't helped, with floods and mudslides making training a challenge.
Much of January has been spent battling a head and chest cold and, to add insult to injury, she had to have her wisdom teeth pulled out.
"It's like I can't win right now," she jokes.
That aside, Guarnier is realistic about her chances going into 2017. As Robert Burns wrote in his poem, 'To a Mouse', "The best laid schemes of mice and men, go often askew, and leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy!" Guarnier's rich experience tells her that in bike racing anything can happen, and focusing too hard on bettering 2016 would be a fruitless task.
"I think it's pretty hard to go in and try to top last year. If you try to top that you might just end up… I don't want to be disappointed," she tells Cyclingnews.
"Trying to win all the races that I won last year and winning the WorldTour - that is an unrealistic expectation in this sport. If I have success in a spring Classic, and I continue to help my teammates, and hopefully keep Boels Dolmans on the top step, and maybe one of my teammates wins the WorldTour - those are things that I want to try and get out of this year."
The spring Classics will form the fulcrum of her early season, with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February her first race. A strong ride at the Tour of Flanders is hoped for, as are some good results at the new Ardennes Week. Boels Dolmans have an enviable line-up for the Ardennes with two-time Fleche Wallonne winner and Olympic Champion Anna van der Breggen on board for 2017.
"I'm looking forward to having Anna on the team," says Guarnier. "She's a great rider and a really fierce competitor, and I really like that. I think that we'll all really be able to play off one another. I think that's something that Boels does well together."
Racing in the USA
Guarnier will have to make a few amendments to her calendar with the disappearance of the Philadelphia Classic from the calendar due to financial struggles. She says that she has not yet 'hit the panic button' on how to fill the large gap in her calendar, but expressed disappointment at the race's demise.
"I'm really sad to see that go. Not only was it on the Women's WorldTour and brought over all the big European teams, it really was a classic in America," she says.
This year has also seen changes regarding the US riders, with the likes of Evelyn Stevens and Kristin Armstrong retiring and Carmen Small on the way out, too. Guarnier, particularly in light of her status as US national champion, now leads the way for the nation, but she's confident that there are riders coming up to fill the void left by her compatriots.
"We have some of our older generation of riders retiring, and I think it's important that we start developing these younger riders," Guarnier says. "There's no clear path. I've certainly not blazed a clear path and, with the current state of our sport, you have to put things together yourself because it's maybe not as established as the men's end of the sport. Also because the financial opportunity makes it a bit more difficult for us to comfortably figure our living situations in Europe.
"Alexis Ryan on Canyon-SRAM is doing really well; she's really embracing the European culture. I think seeing Coryn Rivera going to Sunweb is a good step. It's not easy - it never is - and I think the biggest thing that has stalled American racing is making the jump to full-time racing in Europe."
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