Megan Guarnier made history in South Lake Tahoe on Thursday. The 31-year-old soled across the uphill finish line to win the first stage of the Amgen Tour of California women’s race. The American champ had taken out her first UCI Women’s WorldTour victory, the sixth win of the series for Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team, in the first UCI Women’s WorldTour race on American soil.
“I haven’t really let it sink in yet,” said Guarnier. “It feels pretty good. It gives me a little confidence. I’m happy I could finish off the hard work the girls did today. Their day was not easy.”
The 117-kilometre stage around Lake Tahoe began and finished at Heavenly Ski Resort on the border of California and Utah. Wind swirled in the parking lot, kicking up dust and debris, as Guarnier and her teammates talked tactics with DS Danny Stam ahead of the first of four stages of racing.
“The wind conditions at the start made us fairly confident it would be a neutralised race,” explained Guarnier. “It’s hard to make anything stick when you have a direct head or tailwind.”
“We knew the finish was really hard, and while we knew we would need to be aware of what other teams were doing, we anticipated that the race would stay together until the finish,” Guarnier added. “Evie [Stevens] and I had to wait for the finish. Any work that needed to be done before the finish would be left to the other four girls.”
The race stayed together until first Queen of the Mountains climb when para-cycling world champion Dame Sarah Storey (Podium Ambitions) launched a solo attack. She hit the intermediate sprint – with bonus seconds on offer – one minute ahead of the peloton.
Storey scooped up three seconds for her effort before Boels-Dolmans set Guarnier up to take second place, good for two seconds, from the bunch. Third across the line, Chantal Blaak secured the final second on offer.
“We were definitely sprinting for those bonus seconds with the overall in mind,” said Guarnier. “You don’t want to take yourself out of the general classification on the first day. Sarah was off the front, but we went for the bonus seconds that were left.”
Beyond the intermediate sprint, Storey continued to put power to the pedals ahead of the peloton. Fifty kilometres from the finish, Storey’s gap had ballooned out beyond the five-minute mark.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of activity in the bunch,” Guarnier said. “I think everyone was waiting to see who would take initiative, and we waited a really long time. In the end, we had to chase. We started working when the gap got up to 5:30. It took a long time for the gap to get down to three minutes, but when it did, that’s when other teams started to get involved.”
The collective effort, still spear-headed by Boels-Dolmans, saw Storey return to the bunch inside the final ten kilometres.
“It stayed fast from that point on,” Guarnier said. “It was on the final kicker right before we came into the town that we finally caught her. I tried to maintain good position into the finish from there because I knew exactly what was coming up.”
Blaak and Canuel led the peloton onto the climb. Stevens attacked through a right-hand turn just inside the final kilometre.
“I countered Evie,” said Guarnier. “There wasn’t much going through my head at that point. I had Danny in my ear saying we had to finish it off. I saw that I had a gap, and I knew it was important to hold onto it. I kept pushing and pushing. It seemed like it took forever to make it to the line.”
Guarnier reached the finish four seconds ahead of Swedish champion Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5). Kristin Armstrong (Twenty16) narrowly edged out Stevens for the final spot on the stage podium.
With her intermediate sprint seconds and a 10-second bonus for the stage win, Guarnier starts the stage two team time trial as race leader by 10 seconds over Johansson.
“We’re hoping to keep the jersey in the team,” said Guarnier. “I had a good day today, and we have a strong team for the event as a whole. We want to keep the yellow jersey, but it doesn’t matter at all which one of us is wearing it.”