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Megan Guarnier is enjoying one of the best regular season campaigns in the history of American women’s cycling. She’s won the Amgen Tour of California, the Philadelphia Cycling Classic and, most recently, the Giro d’Italia Femminile. She sits atop the UCI points standings, and more importantly, the standings for the inaugural UCI Women’s WorldTour.
All of that success, however, means Guarnier will enter the Olympic women’s road race with a sizable target on her back. For Guarnier, the pressure is building.
“As the days tick down, it’s getting more nerve-racking,” Guarnier says. “I can bring some confidence from my spring but I’m feeling the pressure.”
The women’s 130km-long Olympic road circuit presents a new challenge for Guarnier. Unlike UCI races, which feature teams of six, the Olympics whittles that number down to a maximum of four. Only 67 total women will compete in the race.
The course includes several short, punch climbs — the 1.2km Grumari (7%) and the 2.1km Grota Funda (4.5%) — before tackling the punishing 8.5km-long ascent of the Vista Chinesa (5.7%). After a 6km descent comes a flat 15km drag to the finish. Along the way, the group will ride over cobblestones, as well as windswept sections along the coast.
Guarnier’s ability to climb, ride on the flats, and sprint make her a favorite to win, alongside Englishwoman Lizzie Armitstead, Dutch rider Marianne Vos, and Swede Emma Johansson.
Guarnier says she’s unsure how the race will play out, but predicts that a small number of riders will come to the line for the finish.
“You have a lot of flat, windy sections along the coast, and then the bottom circuit is very similar to a Spring Classics race, so you could see a small breakaway,” Guarnier says. “It’s going to be a really strange dynamic because it’s a hard circuit and you have such few riders in the peloton.”
Guarnier will race alongside teammates Mara Abbott, Kristin Armstrong and Evelyn Stevens. Guarnier says the four-rider squad gives the Americans an advantage to dictate tactics during the race. Time trial specialist Armstrong can pull back breaks on the course’s flats. One of the world’s top climbers, Abbott could spring away on the long ascent.
Stevens, who can time trial and climb, could also factor into the finale.
No American woman has won an Olympic medal in the road race since 1984, when Connie Carpenter-Phinney and Rebecca Twigg won gold and silver. Guarnier hopes to break the streak.
“I’ve had Rio as the big goal this entire year,” she says. “I’d love to bring home a medal — preferably a gold colored one.”