It was déjà vu in South Lake Tahoe, California on Thursday as American road champion Megan Guarnier climbed to victory on the opening stage of the Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women’s Race empowered by SRAM. The defending champion attacked 300 metres from the uphill finish line at Heavenly Ski Resort to pull on the yellow jersey she wore from start to finish of the 2016 Amgen Women’s Race.
“The team set me up perfectly,” said Guarnier. “It was hectic coming into the base of the final climb. Amy [Pieters] attacked from the bottom and strung things out. When we made the left-hand turn, Karol Ann [Canuel] went and had a small gap. That was brought back. And then Anna [van der Breggen] made a strong attack, and I got on her wheel. From there I attacked in the final 300 metres.”
Van der Breggen hung on for second place to give Boels-Dolmans its fourth straight UCI Women’s WorldTour one-two punch while up-and-comer Arlenis Sierra (Astana) rounded out the podium. Guarnier’s win is the 12th victory of the season for Boels-Dolmans and marks a continuation of the Dutch-registered squad’s string of hometown wins.
“Racing at home is always special,” said Guarnier. “This result means a lot.”
While the result may feel familiar, the road to the top step of the podium is anything but. Guarnier had a strong spring last year that saw her play a key role in the team’s dominant 2016 classics campaign. She stood on the podium (always behind teammates) at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and La Flèche Wallonne and finished fourth at Flanders (behind Deignan and Blaak). A month before winning in California, she won two races in Basque Country: Durango-Durango and the final stage of Euskal Emakumeen Bira.
This year Guarnier spent much of the spring recovering from a concussion sustained at Omloop het Hageland in February. She missed out on five weeks of training and nearly two months of racing as she recovered – only pinning on a number again at Amstel Gold Race in mid-April.
“I definitely had more of a question this year around my fitness and how I would perform today,” said Guarnier. “Last year I knew where I stood. This year, I was a little bit more uncertain. My teammates believed in me, and they set me up perfectly just like last year. I could take a lot of confidence from them.”
“I think it’s great that Megan has shown she’s back again,” Van der Breggen added. “My personal ambition here is to be the best teammate I can for her this week. That’s the best part of the team -- so many of us can win and we’re all happy to support the leader for that day.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
Ninety-five riders lined up for a 117-kilometre clockwise loop around Lake Tahoe on Thursday. A quiet start gave way to an animated, aggressive affair when the peloton hit the first QOM atop Emerald Bay at the 18-kilometre mark.
Trixi Worrack (CANYON//SRAM), Brianna Walle (TIBCO-SVB) and Leah Kirchmann (Team Sunbweb) formed the first reported breakaway the day. The trio proved unable to get a large or lasting advantage.
An uncategorised climb provided the launching point for the next breakaway, and a group of around 10 riders slipped off the front. They managed to stay away for only five kilometres.
“My teammates did all the early work following things, keeping things together,” said Guarnier. “They let me stay calm and save everything for the finish.”
The peloton was together to contest the first intermediate sprint, which Amy Pieters won, and then a new escape took shape with riders from Hagens Berman Supermint, Visit Dallas DNA and Illuminate representing. Ali Tetrick (Cyclance) countered their catch and carried a 20-second gap through the feed zone.
The most dangerous move of the day came off the back of Tetrick’s solo breakaway. Rushlee Buchanan (UnitedHealthcare) and Ingrid Drexel (TIBCO-SVB) escaped and stretched out their advantage beyond the half-minute mark. Several riders attempted to bridge across as the gap continued to grow.
“There were a lot of attacks today,” said Guarnier. “A lot of teams wanted to send riders up the road. Boels-Dolmans had to do a lot of work to bring things back and be in moves, but of course, you can’t be in everything. The girls worked really hard to keep things together and keep anything threatening close.”
Shortly after the race crossed the border into Nevada, on an uncategorised climb, Van der Breggen got to the front and lifted the tempo. Her pace-making not only shut down the breakaway but also split the peloton to bits.
“I think it was the perfect moment because the whole peloton was already suffering,” said Van der Breggen. “If you have to pull it back, better do it when everyone is suffering.”
Lizzie Williams (Hagens Berman Supermint) attacked from the reduced bunch with 40 kilometres left to race. When the Australian gained a minute over the peloton, Boels-Dolmans picked up the pace and returned Williams to the main group.
Numerous teams attempted to send riders up the road on the windy descent back into town, but none of the moves had staying power. Boels-Dolmans maintained control on the front of the peloton leading into the base of the final 1.7-kilometre climb.
“I attacked off Anna’s wheel a bit later than I attacked last year,” said Guarnier. “When Anna went, I had a moment where I thought: ‘Should I let her go?’ and then I realised: ‘No, she’s going to set you up.’ so that’s when I jumped.”
Van der Breggen was able to carry her speed from the earlier attack all the way to the line.
“Continuing the one-two punch….” said Guarnier.
“It's not about the one-two. The main goal is to win," Van der Breggen added. “But if you’re there and can go for it, of course you don’t brake.”
The Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women’s Race empowered by SRAM continues on Friday with a 108-kilometre stage in South Lake Tahoe. Guarnier will line up in race leader’s yellow with a four-second advantage on Van der Breggen and a seven-second advantage on Sierra.
“I’m very much in this moment and haven’t thought ahead to defending the jersey yet, but I know I have a team that’s up to the task,” said Guarnier. We’re in a good position as a team.”