UCI Women’s WorldTour leader Megan Guarnier sprinted to fifth place from a group of 14 riders at GP Plouay on Saturday. The only Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team rider in the final elite selection, Guarnier, who has already locked up the UCI Women’s WorldTour series overall, was aiming for the top step of the podium in Bretagne.
“It’s really nice to have the jersey, and to know we’re going to keep the jersey no matter what, but we weren’t complacent today,” said Guarnier. “We definitely wanted to win, and we went in with a game plan that we thought could net us that result – regardless of the WorldTour standings.”
“It was unfortunate that my sprint was impeded because I think I could have been up there,” Guarnier added. “It might not have been on the top step, but I think I would have been on the podium.”
As usual, Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team started the one-day race with several cards to play. The Dutch-registered squad looked to Karol-Ann Canuel and Evie Stevens, along with Guarnier, to take their chances while world champion Lizzie Armitstead, Nikki Harris and Kasia Pawlowskia were tasked with doing the early work.
“Lizzie, Kasia and Nikki were really good at pushing the pace in the wind today,” said Guarnier. “They were vigilant about keeping me, Karo and Evie in good position and out of trouble. It’s fun to race with a team that can represent on the front and control things the way they do.”
The first two laps of the five-lap circuit race unfolded uneventfully. The action started heating up in the third 27-kilometre lap. An attack by Alena Amialiusik (CANYON//SRAM) in the third lap split the peloton and a fierce tempo set by Armitstead further whittled down the field. Armitstead’s pace would eventually leave only 22 riders in the lead – including four from Boels-Dolmans: Armitstead, Canuel, Guarnier and Harris.
“Lizzie and Nikki had already done a lot of work, so it wasn’t a surprise when they were unable to stay in contact with the group,” said Guarnier. “Karo had some problems with cramping on the second to last lap, which was too bad because this course really suits her otherwise.”
The final lap of GP Plouay is a shortened version of the earlier loop. Guarnier was isolated for the duration – 14 kilometres in total.
“It was tough,” she said. “The attacks were constant, and several teams still had two riders. I was covering everything.”
Still, when the race split further – on the final time up the Côte de Ty Marrec, Guarnier was there. Four kilometres from the finish, it looked as if a six-up sprint between Guarnier, Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5), Kasia Niewiadoma (Rabo Liv), Katrin Garfoot (ORICA-AIS) and Jöelle Numainville (Cervélo-Bigla) would decide the winner. With the flamme rouge in sight, the chasers crawled their way back to the leaders. Fourteen riders sprinted for the finish line with Eugenia Bujak delivering the win for BTC City Ljubljana.
Six minutes later, Armitstead, Harris and Pawlowska crossed the finish line with their attention on Stevens. They pointed at the American, clapped and smiled big as they crossed the finish line side-by-side. Stevens is set to retire at the end of the season, and Saturday’s race in Plouay was her final road race with the team.
“I’m incredibly grateful to end my road racing career alongside these amazing women,” said Stevens. “I didn’t expect that sort of gesture at the finish, especially with the team time trial in Qatar still to come, but it’s definitely another happy memory to add to the collection.”