U.S. national champion Guarnier rides to victory in women’s Stage 1 of Tour of California
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — Eighteen teams containing the best women cyclists in the sport, including the all-time winningest women’s cyclist Marianne Vos and two-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong lined up Thursday morning, May 19, for a 72.7-mile ride around Lake Tahoe. The clockwise lap around the lake opened the four-stage Amgen Tour of California women’s race.
Thursday’s stage began and ended on the same mark at Heavenly Mountain Resort, where the men would finish Stage 5 two hours later. The road race featured elite competition, and is the first of two U.S. events on the first-ever UCI Women’s WorldTour.
“The Women’s WorldTour is a great step for women’s cycling. It provides a narrative for our season,” said stage champion Megan Guarnier. “We really ride as a team … any day could be your day, and that gives everybody on the team a confidence boost.”
The peloton of 106 was still together heading into the Emerald Bay Queen of the Mountain (QOM) climb, but the climb split the peloton into three groups. Riding for Podium Ambition Pro Cycling p/b Club La Santa, Sarah Storey, Great Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian, took the opportunity to attack at the descent.
Storey created a gap as she rocketed down the mountain at over 40 mph. That gap increased to more than five minutes over the peloton after two hours of racing.
The final descent before the second QOM to the finish saw the peloton steadily closing the gap to Storey, with Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team leading the charge at the front and reaching her with about three miles left.
“The wind pretty much crucified me,” Storey said after the race.
Born without a functioning left hand, she holds 18 Para-Cycling World Championship titles, was awarded the stage’s Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider Jersey.
“I wanted to be in the break today,” Storey said. “It just so happened that it was a solo break.”
Rally Cycling and Team TIBCO-SVB took turns at the front heading into the final mile and climb to the finish, which averaged a six-percent gradient. Guarnier, a New York native and current national champion, pulled ahead of the pack to claim Stage 1 of the 2016 women’s race and the Amgen Race Leader Jersey as well as the Visit California Sprint Jersey. Guarnier is the UCI fourth-ranked cyclist and will represent the U.S. at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“Today Sarah Storey made a great effort off the front. She went early, the gap ballooned up to 5 minutes, 30 seconds, and we were trying to wait and to see what teams would take initiative,” Guarnier said. “It ended up being our team, Boels-Dolmans.”
UCI’s top-ranked Emma Johansson (Sweden) of Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling came in four seconds behind to take second place, followed across the line seconds later by Armstrong of TWENTY16 – Ridebiker in third, with world champions Evelyn Stevens (United States) of Boels-Dolmans in fourth and Vos of Rabo-Liv in fifth.
Other prizes Thursday went to Rally Cycling’s Sara Poidevin (Canada), who will wear the Lexus Queen of the Mountain Jersey going into Stage 2. Cylance Pro Cycling’s Rossella Ratto (Italy) was awarded the SRAM Best Young Rider Jersey.
“I always consider the stage race as a new peloton together for the first time — it’s a new combination, you have a lot of American teams, you have European teams coming over,” Armstrong said. “After we got up the climb and down the descent, I felt like everything kind of went a little bit at ease and everyone relaxed a little bit.”
The women’s race resumed Friday, May 20, with time trials in Folsom. Stage 3 will begin and end in Santa Rosa on Saturday, May 21, with the race concluding in Sacramento on Sunday, May 22.