SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — American cyclist Megan Guarnier finally has her season back on track.
Just in time to ride on home soil, too.
The three-time U.S. champion won the opening stage of the women’s Tour of California on Thursday, pulling away from a reduced bunch on the uphill climb to the finish. It was a breakthrough win for her after a concussion sustained in her second race of the season sidelined her for six weeks.
“My team had their work cut out for them today,” Guarnier said. “It was quite aggressive. They had to follow everything or be in everything. They let me stay calm and ready for the finish.”
Guarnier took advantage of a lead-out from teammates Amy Pieters and Karol-Ann Canuel that delivered her to the base of the final climb to Heavenly Ski Resort. At that point, she was able to pull away from Boels-Dolmans teammate Anna van der Breggan and Astana’s Arlenis Sierra.
“For Megan, this is an important race,” said van der Breggen, the road race champion at the Rio Olympics last summer. “She had a tough spring so we are all happy for her.”
The 72-mile opening stage looped around Lake Tahoe, giving riders plenty of scenery to enjoy on their way to the finish. And they had plenty of time to sightsee during the first few miles as most of the powerhouse teams seemed content to keep the race bunched up.
Ali Tetrick of Cylance Pro Cycling made the first move to animate the race, but it was Lizzie Williams of Hagens Berman whose attack with just over 20 miles to go ramped up the intrigue.
“It felt very windy when I was alone off the front,” she said. “There was a lull mid-race and that was the point where I decided to go.”
Boels-Dolmans, which races primarily in Europe, and the U.S.-based UnitedHealthcare teams brought the field back together in the closing miles. Pieters and Canuel ensured that Guarnier would be there for the final sprint and the reigning Women’s WorldTour champion delivered.
“It was a little hectic coming into the final climb,” said Guarnier, who will have an 8-second advantage on van der Breggen heading into the second of four stages Friday. “Once we found each other, Amy Pieters attacked but was chased down. In about 300 meters, it was my turn to attack.”