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2015 was a mighty big year for Megan Guarnier. With a solo victory at Strade Bianche, the U.S. National title, and a stage win at the Euskal Emakumeen Bira under her belt, we sat down with Megan mid-2015 to get her impressions of the season so far.

Ljubljana, Slovenia. It’s the day of the 2015 Giro Rosa prologue—what is essentially the pre-first stage, stage—and American, Megan Guarnier, appears calm and relaxed. Looking forward to getting started on the biggest, multi-day race on the women’s calendar. We meet in the lobby of the team hotel, in a high ceilinged, open lounge area where voices carry and every elevator ding signals the ground-floor delivery of a professional cyclist from some team-or-other. Upon hearing we’re going to have a rambling chat about the season so far, Megan grins widely.

MEGAN GUARNIER’S MIGHTY BIG YEAR

‘If there’s one thing I’m good at,” she says, chuckling, “it’s rambling chats.”

Her good humor is contagious and easy, and at the mention of Smiley the soigneur, our conversation turns swiftly to team nicknames.

“Danny’s the mastermind of nicknames,” she says. “He calls me Calimero. It’s this little cartoon bird. The bird wears an eggshell on his head because he forgot to grow, and I’m the smallest one on the team, so…. Anyway, the bird always says, ‘It’s not fair. You are big and I am small,’ and Danny says he can just see me in the peloton with all these giant people around, and me saying ‘It’s not fair.’ (Danny Stam, Boels-Dolmans Team Director and bestow-er of said nickname, tells me later that he’d seen Megan in a TT helmet one day, and that visual made him think of it. After that, it just stuck.)

It seems fitting that her nickname originates from a story like this, since the year so far has been somewhat of a storybook season. And it’s even more fitting that this small but powerful rider, with the odds seemingly stacked against her, should have such a big year.

You could say it started at Strade Bianche, with a dominant, solo victory in the first women’s iteration of this prestigious race. The performance held two hallmarks of Guarnier’s consistent style—patience and determination. Soloing off the front, the image of Megan, arms in the air crossing the line with not a soul in sight, is the kind of photo parents hang above the mantel. It’s a dominant victory, with the elation of the finish writ large on her face. Is it a different feeling, that moment of victory at Strade, when compared it with something like a grand tour?

AND IT’S EVEN MORE FITTING THAT THIS SMALL BUT POWERFUL RIDER, WITH THE ODDS SEEMINGLY STACKED AGAINST HER, SHOULD HAVE SUCH A BIG YEAR.

“Winning a one-day race is special,” she says, “Because you train so hard for so many hours and you always think about winning—the victory. Winning any single day road race, it’s like you’re the first to cross the line on that one day. It’s a little bit different when you win general classifications, because you don’t always have to win any stage to win the overall. With a one day, there’s always this exhilaration of crossing the line first.

“And it was just an incredible win—to win the first ever women’s Strade—I still can’t believe it a little bit. It was my first really big, one-day win in Europe, and I think there was a big sigh of relief from a lot of my supporters. You know, like, “Oh, she finally did it. She finally did all of these things that we’ve known she can do. She’s been training so hard she’s been working so hard and finally.”

What does a win like that do for the mind? How does it impact the Megan mojo?

“I got a lot of confidence for the rest of the season from it. To win it solo just gives you confidence that you do have the power.” She pauses, obviously thinking back to that day and turning the moment over in her mind before adding, “Because it’s not that they just sat up behind me and said ‘oh, ok. Let her win.’ They were chasing. It’s a huge confidence boost.”

That confidence has held strong, propelling her to the podium for a stage at Euskal Emakumeen Bira and U.S. Road Nationals. What about winning a stage in a multi-day race? How does that feel in comparison to a one-day?

“I think in a stage race, the victories are a little different. Maybe they’re a little bit toned down because there’s not this big ramp up into it. Whereas Strade and Nationals, you kind of have this big vision of ‘I wanna win this race.’ But in a stage race you’re like ‘Oh, I have five opportunities to win.’ [laughs] I mean it’s how you hope to see it. And once you win, it’s like, ‘OK, I’ve won, now on to the next day. How am I going to win the next day? Or what’s the team tactic the next day?’

“So, I guess you don’t have as much time to let it sink in and celebrate.”

It’s not a stretch to say that any rider dreams of becoming the National Champion of their country and wearing the national colors—in Megan’s case, the red white and blue. And prior to what will be a courageous Giro performance—which at the time of this interview is still to come—becoming the U.S. National Champion was the second big result of the season. How does winning that compare?

“I guess winning Nationals feels a little more real for me because I’ve done it once before [2012], and since that first time I’ve had a few years to simmer on it. You know, to want it even more? In a way, the second time validates the first. The first time you’re like, ‘Maybe I just got lucky that day. Maybe the stars aligned.’ But then you do it the second time and you’re like ‘Wow. OK, this is two times.’

“So, I guess I feel,” she says, thinking, “A little bit more in my own skin in the stars and stripes jersey this time.”

PRETTY IN PINK

France, two weeks later. The cheers of the crowds lining narrow Italian streets or hanging out at the edges of twisting mountain roads have faded, and Megan Guarnier is kicking back. Now it’s time to relax and decompress with her husband by her side, in the quiet sanctuary of their recently purchased home. Time to reflect on a quest for victory that ultimately was not to be.

Six days. Guarnier spent six glorious days in the coveted maglia rosa.

A thrilling sprint victory saw her first pull on the Pink Jersey at the end of Stage 2, and each day that followed saw the ladies of Boels-Dolmans battle through sweltering heat and tough mountain stages to defend it. Day-after-day they succeeded, with Guarnier herself snagging as many precious points as she could along the way, before finally losing the jersey in the individual time trial. After the dust settled, she’d spent multiple days in the maglia rosa, had a stage win, the overall points jersey, and finished third overall in the GC.

“Six days in the maglia rosa was really fun for our team,” she says, adding that although fun, it was also a heavy load to carry. “The Boels-Dolmans ladies raced above and beyond to keep the pink jersey, and I was extremely disappointed to lose it in the time trial.”

You can’t say that she didn’t give it absolutely everything she had—there’s not one photo from the race that doesn’t reflect her give-it-all effort. Three stages in a row she sprinted for second and kept the GC dream alive, and it’s this kind of consistency and tenacity she’s known for.

I LEFT EVERYTHING OUT THERE ON THE ROADS OF ITALY, THE GIRO IS ALWAYS A RACE THAT YOU GO INTO WITH THE THOUGHT, ‘THIS IS GOING TO BE REALLY HARD’ AND THEN IT’S MORE CHALLENGING THAN YOU COULD HAVE IMAGINED.

MEGAN GUARNIER

Although the disappointment of losing the jersey during the time trial lurks in her mind, there’s also the satisfaction of knowing that she went as hard as she could in that race against the clock.

“I left everything out there on the roads of Italy,” she says, “so I can only be proud of that. And thankfully my teammates understand the trials and tribulations of time trialing, and were supportive on that difficult day. I’m also pleased with my results over the week, and the most special part of that was sharing those results with my team. It was each of my teammates who made it possible and bolstered me to those performances.”

“You know,” she adds, “the Giro is always a race that you go into with the thought, ‘this is going to be really hard’ and then it’s more challenging than you could have imagined. The heat this year was insufferable, but my teammates were incredible at keeping me hydrated throughout the race.”

Whatever the rest of the season holds, the year so far has proven one thing for sure—size will not hold back this Calimero. Not in Megan Guarnier’s mighty big year.

“Did I ramble enough,” she asks, laughing. Not too big. Not too small. Just the perfect amount.