Megan Guarnier led the Amgen Tour of California from start to finish, and on Sunday she sealed the deal. Finishing safely in the bunch on stage four in Sacramento, the American road champion won the four day-stage race and jumped up to the top of the UCI Women’s WorldTour rankings. It’s the seventh WorldTour win for Boels-Dolmans, counting Guarnier’s stage one win in South Lake Tahoe, and the fourth victory of the season for Guarnier.
“It’s been a really good spring for Boels-Dolmans,” said Guarnier. “We’ve been on the top step at all the big races. It’s been nice for me to be on the podium regularly as well. When my teammates have won, I’ve also been scoring points unintentionally as I’ve done my job for them. Moving into the WorldTour leader’s jersey was unexpected. Three of us from Boels-Dolmans have now worn the jersey. That says a lot about this team.”
Guarnier started the 70-kilometre circuit race in California’s capital with a 15-second advantage over Kristin Armstrong (Twenty16-Ridebiker) in second place. Evie Stevens sat in third place at 25-seconds. Barring a completely unexpected turn of events, the final day of racing was expected to end in a bunch kick with little opportunity for any team or rider to challenge for the yellow jersey.
“It wasn’t a given and anything can happen in bike racing, but we were probably much more nervous yesterday than today,” said Guarnier. “A lot of teams wanted a sprint today, and we expected that they would work to keep things together.”
Spectators lined the city centre course as the women’s peloton set off for 20 laps of the 3.5-kilometre circuit. The pace was slow during the first lap with the bunch spread out across the road.
The attacks began on lap three when a BePink rider attempted to go clear of the bunch. She was caught by the peloton before race radio could give a name or a number.
All subsequent attacks were neutralised. No rider or group proved capable of gaining more than 10-seconds over the peloton and any lasting gaps were formed off the back of the peloton rather than the front.
With 14 laps left, all but around 20 riders were involved in or held up by a crash. Nikki Harris, Karol-Ann Canuel and Romy Kasper were amongst the fallers. Harris and Canuel managed to chase back on, but Kasper would never see the peloton again.
“I’m just bloody and bruised,” said Kasper, who is still on the mend from an acromioclavicular separation. “It’s not so bad.”
With fives laps remaining, Guarnier outsprinted Armstrong and Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5) at the intermediate sprint. Guarnier earned three bonus seconds for her efforts, extending her advantage over Armstrong by one second more.
In the final dash to the win, Kirsten Wild (Hitec Products) came out on top. Lisa Brennauer (CANYON//SRAM) finished in second place while Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv) rounded out the podium. Surrounded by teammates, Guarnier rolled across the finish line on the same time as Wild to win the Amgen Tour of California.
“We had hoped to sprint for Chantal [Blaak], but we didn’t get ourselves organised,” explained Guarnier. “That’s on us.”
With massive crowds assembled in front of the podium, Guarnier stepped on stage first to receive her yellow jersey and later to accept the green points classification jersey and the UCI Women’s WorldTour leader jersey. Alongside the men’s race winner, Etixx-QuickStep’s Julian Alaphilippe, Guarnier collected the keys to a brand new Lexus. As spectators cheered with delight, Guarnier climbed into the Lexus, popped her head out of the sun roof and hoisted her massive trophy above her head.
“The team tactic put me and Evie in a position to take the win on the first stage, and by winning the first stage, that put us in a position to defend the yellow jersey,” Guarnier explained. “In the team time trial, if I hadn’t had such strong teammates that were so willing to sacrifice everything, we wouldn’t have kept yellow. We really had to work for it on stage three, and the girls did their jobs beautifully. They covered so many moves to keep Evie and I fresh for the climb.”
“Today was a bit surreal,” she said. “The crowds were huge at the podium. I have the team to thank for that moment. The girls did their jobs beautifully all week. My win speaks to the strength of the team.”
Her win is a historic win. Guarnier is the first American to win a UCI Women’s WorldTour race, and the Amgen Tour of California is the first UCI Women’s WorldTour race on home soil.
“This one is up there – being in America, winning a Women’s WorldTour event, taking the leader’s jersey,” she said. “It’s definitely a career highlight. My standout moment was the stage one win because that’s what put us in a position to win the entire race. It was a beautiful team tactic.”