July 2016 - Athlete Profile
By Liz Lukowski
When Adirondack Sports & Fitness published cyclist and Glens Falls native Megan Guarnier’s Athlete Profile in May 2008, she had just finished her first season racing in Europe. She said about bike racing, “There’s no other way that I’d like to see the world.” Eight years later she’s not only seen the world; you could say she’s dominating it.
On July 10th, riding for her current team Boels-Dolmans, she won the most important stage race of the Women’s WorldTour, the Giro Rosa in Italy. The prestige of winning the Giro Rosa for a female cyclist can be best compared to that of winning the Tour de France for a male cyclist. It is an exhausting ten-day stage race that includes different racing experiences from mountainous climbing days, flat sprint stages, and a time trial.
In 2016 Megan has also had overall podiums in important international stage races like Trofeo Binda (Italy), La Fleche Wallone (Belgium), and wins at the Tour of California (USA), the Philadelphia Cycling Classic (USA), and is a she is a three-time (and current) National Road Race Champion! These results have her currently leading the Women’s WorldTour, and have rocketed her to the top woman’s spot on the Union Cycliste International (UCI) ranking. She’s the first American woman ever to have this distinction!
In 2012 Megan didn’t make the USA Cycling selection to compete in the Olympics in London. Disappointed, she set her focus on the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Understanding that the selection of riders for the games is not straightforward, she knew she wanted to earn an automatic invitation, which would assure her a spot. “I wanted to make it decisively; I didn’t want any subjectivity” she told me.
Last fall, Megan won a bronze medal at the Road Race World Championships in Richmond, Va., and secured her spot on the 2016 USA Olympic cycling team. It was early, so she was able to transfer the stress of trying to make the Olympic team, and focus her energy instead on the racing season – and working towards a medal on the challenging course in Rio.
Megan’s achievements have not come to fruition overnight. Her cycling career has been over a decade in the making, and she has been in a consistent progression forward. While attending Middlebury College, all her training was spent on a stationary trainer in her dorm room. She describes the, “blood, sweat, and tears … well maybe minus the blood,” that she was putting in and it just was not translating when she got on the road.
She knew something had to change and that change was a move to a California, where she knew there would be more opportunity, and better training conditions. In 2008 she meet her coach, Corey Hart, at the US Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. He is still her coach, and was instrumental to her successful transition to racing in Europe, and eventually signing her first professional contract in 2010. She sees him as a mentor with a wealth of knowledge of the culture of racing in Europe, and how to win races.
There is not a clear path established for girls and women to move up the ranks in women’s cycling. This is a sentiment Megan wants girls to understand and not be intimidated by. She advises that girls interested in the sport get out and do it; go to races and talk to people, listen to their advice, and take what works for you.
When asked about the how she feels about the discrepancy in prize money, salaries, and coverage of women’s cycling, Megan laments that it is unfortunate and frustrating, but she does see steps in the right direction. She stresses that the more women’s cycling fans speak out and show up, the more publicity they will receive, and the budgets will improve. She is now an ambassador for the sport, and demonstrates that women cyclists can make it work, and love doing it!
Megan values individual growth and progression in sport, as well as working as part of a team. When she was first starting out in Europe, she looked up to Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, a German cyclist. Ina was a talented sprinter, but Megan recollects that the “most amazing rides were those where she rode for her teammates.” Cycling is a team sport and riders play different roles on the team. A domestique is the name for a rider who works for the benefit of the team and the leader. Megan has seen herself as a key domestique for most of her career and sees great honor in that role. She says, “You need to learn how to work for people; to help somebody.” Those years as a domestique were part of her progression as a rider, and an important stepping-stone to being a strong overall rider, a team leader, and someone who can win bike races.
The stresses of a professional bike racer are great and being able to reset is an important part of Megan’s approach to managing that stress. With training, every good day comes with a couple of bad days. Megan relies on her support system to keep her from blowing a bad day of training or racing out of proportion. She also has a 20-minute yoga routine that she has created specifically for race days. This morning ritual helps her get in touch, breathe, and see how her body feels. This consistency is a common thread in her cycling career.
She puts in the time, is consistent and makes sacrifices. Among those sacrifices is not having much time for hobbies outside of cycling; but she enjoys cooking, reading, and yoga. In the off-season, she does weight lifting and hiking, and loves to get out on the mountain bike when she can. She doesn’t have any way of measuring her power output on her mountain bike, like she does on her road bike, so she laughs that the training “doesn’t count.”
When I talked to Megan she was ending a short visit with her family in Glens Falls and on her way to her home in California (she has another home in the south of France). The visit is bookended between her big Giro Rosa win in Italy, and before she leaves for Brazil, to live out her lifelong dream of going to the Olympics.
She doesn’t really know where to call home at the moment, but it’s pretty clear that she’s at home on the bike.
Liz Lukowski (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a road, mountain bike and cyclocross racer for Woo, Girl Cycling and is a women’s cycling fan. Liz works as an Engineering Geologist for the NYSDEC and lives in Albany with lots of bikes.