Like her male counterpart Timmy Duggan, Megan Guarnier will be defending her 2012 National Championship without the aid of her European team. Guarnier moved to the Netherlands to race for Rabo-LivGiant alongside Marianne Vos and has found her own way to the podium in addition to helping Vos set up several victories. Despite a cold and wet spring racing season Guarnier is excited about the experience so far.
Guarnier, one of two riders on the team that isn't from the Netherlands, has been impressed with her teammates welcoming attitude and professionalism.
"I love the team and everything about it. There are so many good things about it, it's hard to say one thing. All the women are excellent," said Guarnier. "They have a good attitude, and they are hard workers, and everybody is there to do their job and everybody is there to be a teammate."
Rabobank team leader Marianne Vos excels at many facets of the sport, and has provided a good role model for Guarnier who has progressed year after year through the ranks of the peloton.
"I hope I'm contributing, sometimes I wonder if she should just do all this on her own!" laughed Guarnier when asked how she liked working for the top-ranked rider in the world. "This year I've seen even the best need teammates. I came onto the team knowing I wanted to be the best teammate I could possibly be. Riding for, arguably, the best team in the world, I need to be the best teammate in the world. It makes me take my domestique game up another level."
Guarnier will be lacking in teammates as she lines up against squads like Exergy-Twenty16, Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies, and NOW-Novartis for MS who are fielding teams of six to eight riders. Given that Guarnier will have to be selective in her attacks she's betting that the steep climb up Lookout Mountain will be where the race is made.
"The climbers, the strong riders, the contenders of the race will be able to separate themselves there," said Guarnier. "But it is a long ways out from the finish, depending on the wind direction, what ever is off the front could get neutralized."
Despite having the advantage of numbers on their side members of the larger teams are also expecting Lookout Mountain to determine how the race will unfold. NOW-Novartis for MS captain Robin Farina tipped several domestic riders including Kristen McGrath (Exergy-TWENTY16), Janel Holcomb (Optum), and Jade Wilcoxson (Optum) as possible contenders. "I'm thinking it's going to be a small group coming into the finish and fighting it out on the small circuits," said Farina after the time trial. "I think a good bike handler and punchy rider is going to emerge from that group as the winner. It's going to be someone who can climb well, maybe not make it over with the top climbers, but can regroup back on the descent or in the flats with some wind."
Janel Holcomb, whose Optum squad team is fielding six riders including 2012 runner-up Lauren Hall, thought the outcome of the race was too hard to predict due to the severity of the climb, fast descent, and rolling downtown circuits. "I think that this course is leaving everyone guessing," said Holcomb. "It's a course that is hard to predict, and nobody can say this is how it's going to be won, and this is who is going to win it."
Megan Guarnier has learned a lot the last several months racing for one of the top teams in the world and is very cognizant how depth and varied skills can determine a races outcome. Knowing that they fast descent down Lookout Mountain and flat sections of the course may favor bigger squads, Guarnier plans to keep an eye on several key contenders.
"Exergy has a strong team, and a couple strong climbers that will be key to watch," said Guarnier. "Optum has strong climbers and finishers so you need to keep that in mind when you are in the race with your tactics. And lululemon, anyone on that team has the ability to go up the road as well. Alison Powers (NOW) has also shown she's a strong contender."
As a woman that values teamwork Megan Guarnier will have to have to outwit and out-ride the biggest teams American cycling has to offer to recapture a second championship.