Racing on their home soil, the American elite women's squad was motivated to put on a show for their fans, and at the UCI Road World Championship road race in Richmond, they were front and present throughout the 129.9km race. Megan Guarnier came up with the country's first medal in the road race since Jeanne Golay's bronze in 1994 - ending a 21 year drought and calling the race a success for her team.
Guarnier's bronze came behind two of the world's top female racers, World Cup leader Lizzie Armitstead, and Anna van der Breggen, the woman who won the hardest stage race of the season, the Giro Rosa.
"The women on the podium are amazing riders, and the calibre of the race was very high. This is a really great result for me, and it's an amazing result for Team USA," Guarnier said. "I'm proud to be the one on the podium, but everyone was fully in for a result as a team."
Guarnier earned the faith of her American team through a string of similarly strong results, including victories in the Strade Bianche, the US national championships, a stage and third overall in the Giro Rosa, and third in La Flèche Wallonne Féminine. Team USA marked every move, and their presence at the front was well noted by thousands of jubilant fans along the course.
Noticeably calm smooth in the peloton, Guarnier said her race had only one moment of misfortune when she found herself too far back on the cobbled climb. "I knew my teammates were up there working, and I knew they were up there covering and my job was to be patient and save my energy for the finish. I had a little whoopsie on Libby Hill one time, I was too far back, and that's what happens - I had to unclip. I just stayed cool because I knew my teammates were there."
A worse situation emerged for the USA when Shelley Olds crashed on the descent from Main Street when another rider lost control in the turn and careened into the peloton half a lap later. Olds would remount and chase, but eventually drop out with three laps to go. She was the second to exit after Lauren Stephens abandoned halfway through.
“When we lost Olds we knew that we definitely didn't want a sprint anymore," Guarnier said. "And when we lost Lauren Stephens that made Coryn Rivera in the front more important because she was out sprinter in case that was the case at the end. We were still comfortable with what was happening in the race and everyone really worked hard today and should be proud of the work that they put in.”
Before the race, Stevens said there was a lot of question whether a team of such diverse talent could work together. But she pointed to this race as a prime example of how they could. "It was the perfect example. We worked as a team, and you know Lizzie's had an unbelievable year and she's a worthy champion. I'm thrilled to see Megan get the bronze."
Stevens was aggressive early in the race, and the Americans were responsible for keeping the race together until Olds crashed, covering moves and throwing in attacks, all as part of the team plan.
Rivera gets her moment to shine
When a dangerous move went clear on the penultimate lap, the responsibility fell to Rivera, who was in a perfect position to cover the attack, which gained a minute before being reeled in on the final trip up Libby Hill.
Rivera, the youngest of the team, could very well have been in a position of sprinting for the medals. Having won the collegiate national championships in the test event on the same course last year, Rivera had a special edge.
"There was a chance [it could stick], I thought, but a lot of the hitters were back in the field, so at least it put pressure in the UK, who weren't in the break. There was a small chance, and I knew it was my responsibility to finish it, but as the gap closed down it would go down to Evie and Megan to finish this off.
"It was special, I know where to be, I know the lines to take [on the course]," Rivera said. "To have that in the back of my head, knowing that I raced on it, it was pretty special. It was cool. It was good to have that experience."
Guarnier going to Rio
With this bronze medal, Guarnier has earned an automatic bid for the 2016 Olympic Games, but postponed thinking about that achievement, preferring to enjoy her moment on the podium instead. “I haven't really thought about that too much because today was a big challenge and I was focused on getting to the line today. We wanted to go for the jersey sitting next to me. It’s very exciting to have that automatic bid to Rio but for right now I think I’ll enjoy this bronze."
Previously racing in the shadow of riders like Stevens on the American team, under Marianne Vos at Rabo-Liv, Guarnier has come into her own this year with Boels Dolmans. Her progression has been an ever expanding list of palmares from a podium in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to podiums in last year's Pan American Championships, but this year's victories, including a second US road title, put her on another level entirely.
"Every year my coach and I try to progress, and this year I took a step in the progression," Guarnier said. "Hopefully we will continue. I have to say my trade team is amazing, and I have amazing support on and off the bike.
"Today [the team] were incredible. Every teammate deserves to be on the podium with me because they really gave everything."
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