It's hard to imagine a year that could top 2015 for American professional cyclist Megan Guarnier.
The veteran road racer began the year by winning the inaugural edition of the women's Strade Bianche. She then followed it up with a stage win and podium finish at the Giro d'Italia, the women's national road race title in May, and a third place finish at the UCI Road World Championships, securing her spot in the 2016 Olympics.
ACTIVE.com caught up with Guarnier on the eve of her defense of the 2015 Strade Bianche title (she ultimately placed sixth), which serves as the opener for the first-ever UCI Women's WorldTour.
Note: This interview was lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
ACTIVE.com: 2016 marks the third year of Specialized's sponsorship of the Boels-Dolmans team—what does it mean to have a consistent technical sponsor from year to year?
Megan Guarnier: It has been hugely beneficial to have Specialized as a sponsor for three years; it provides continuity, and we are all extremely dialed in our positions. Our fits have been established to increase our efficiency and power output, and we have been able to carry this over into each season. Specialized has been working with our team since the beginning of 2014, and it has been an incredible partnership. They've made sure to provide us with cutting-edge technology and equipment that will help us meet our goals.
ACTIVE.com: This is the inaugural year of the UCI Women's WorldTour. For the layperson, what are the biggest changes as a result of this launch?
Guarnier: The WorldTour will provide a narrative to our racing season. It's a necessary and big step forward for women's cycling because each race will have a mandatory amount of live coverage, and that's so important to increase the visibility of our sport.
Previously, the only means of following our races was through Twitter feeds, or sometimes even just a final result. There are many fans that are passionate about our sport, but this means of reporting and communicating the dynamics of our race has certainly not done it justice. Now that we have the opportunity to display the animated tactics of the women's peloton through live coverage, I'm positive that our fan base will continue to grow.
Furthermore, under the WorldTour regulations, the top 20 teams will be invited to all races and have housing provided for them. This will give the smaller, developing teams a chance to attend races they might not otherwise have been able to attend due to budget restraints. This gives more women access to the highest level of racing and will further facilitate its development. Along with the media coverage initiative, this will increase the breadth and depth of our sport.
Both the increased accessibility to the highest level of races and the higher visibility will pique the interest of potential sponsors and allow further growth of women's cycling.
ACTIVE.com: Personally, you had a huge season in 2015, although it was many years in the making. What helped you finally break through in such a big way?
Guarnier: Yes, 2015 was my best season yet. It has been years of learning the European peloton, the races, the tactics and my strengths. My coaches and family have always been there to bolster me to reach my potential and continue to learn. Additionally, my Boels-Dolmans teammates and support staff played a big role in helping me to succeed. It's a very supportive environment, and they are always trying to get the best out of me.
ACTIVE.com: What are your goals for 2016? How prominently do the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro figure into your planning for the year?
Guarnier: I'm very focused on Rio this year. It's a dream come true to make the team. Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of being an Olympic athlete. I thought it would be in the pool as a swimmer (Editor's note: Guarnier attended Middlebury College with the intent of swimming at the collegiate level before a shoulder injury forced her to give up the sport), but I'm so happy to have found something that has allowed me to achieve this dream.
ACTIVE.com: How is it different racing against your pro teammates in competitions like the Olympics?
Guarnier: It's part of this sport, but it's definitely hard to be such close teammates all year and then for one or two races a season you are competitors. But at the same time, we're all professionals and we all have goals, and that's something we understand and respect in the pursuit of those goals.
ACTIVE.com: Women's cycling has become a top focus for major brands like Specialized. Have you noticed a difference in terms of the quality of women's-specific products available?
Guarnier: Women's cycling has benefited greatly from the growing interest in our sport. With the increase in awareness of healthy lifestyles, it behooves companies to take notice that women are interested in getting on bikes.
Specialized makes incredible women's products and they never compromise quality in order to design top equipment for women. They create products specifically designed to fit our bodies, while maintaining a commitment to incorporating the newest technology. This approach provides women with an incentive and drive to enter into the sport, whether competitively or just to enjoy the landscape. It lowers the barriers for women to enter the sport while making sure they feel welcome in the cycling community.
ACTIVE.com: What advice would you give to a beginner female cyclist? That first year or two are so critical to women really picking up and staying with the sport, and it can certainly be intimidating.
Guarnier: My biggest advice is to get out and ride. It is quite simple. Don't over-think it and don't try to do everything right. There are so many nuances to cycling and it takes years to learn. The most important thing is that you get out and ride, the rest will follow.
Local bike shops often have group rides of many levels where you can meet new people that can assist you in your development, and that's where you'll find a niche in cycling that works for you, whether it's competing or going for a ride on a beautiful weekend day.
I can't emphasize enough the importance of not over-thinking the equipment, your fitness, the culture, etc. and just get out there and experience it. The knowledge, strength and skill will come in time, but it doesn't happen overnight.
ACTIVE.com: What is your favorite offseason workout?
Guarnier: Endurance rides with my husband.
ACTIVE.com: Favorite race?
Guarnier: Strade Bianche.
ACTIVE.com: Your go-to pre-race meal?
ACTIVE.com: What do you usually eat on the bike?
ACTIVE.com: What is your favorite cheat meal?
ACTIVE.com: What is the cycling accessory you can't do without?
Guarnier: Helmet. Safety never takes vacations.
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