Last year was a breakthrough season for American Cyclist, Megan Guarnier. As well as claiming the National Road Race Championships for the second time, she won her first big one day race in Europe – Strada Bianche, also taking an incredible third place at the UCI Road World Champs in Richmond as the season drew to a close.
The Boels Dolmans rider told us in a recent interview that her win at the Tuscan classic gave her the confidence she needed during the rest of the season, saying: “I think it let me push myself a little harder. It was kind of a breakthrough moment for me."
"I think that at the level that we're at, the mental aspect is huge."
Coming back to the same team now for the third year, she tells us that stability and mental coaching are indispensable for a pro cyclist – saying: “I think that at the level that we're at, the mental aspect is huge. We train so hard physically all the time, and it's the small percentages at this level [that make the difference between winning and losing], so every part that you can make help your advantage is important."
Guarnier tells us she has worked with a sports psychologist “for years" and admits: “I probably can take credit for her first grey hairs! But it is important - it's my career, it's my job, the team expects me to contribute and I need to do everything in my power to compete to the best of my abilities."
The emotional props that help riders vary – we’re all individuals – but for Guarnier routine and accepting the elements that are out of her control are paramount.
She said: “For me, in the morning I kind of like to have my routine and make sure I've done certain things - my breakfast is usually a routine, stretching before my race is a routine, but not all women have that."
"Learning what you can control and what you can't is important"
She adds: “I guess learning what you can control and what you can't is important. Specifically for a pro cyclist, our travel days - you've got to go with the flow. If you fight a travel day it's brutal - they're never fun, and if you have a big travel day the day in front of a race it can take away from your race performance if you stress about all the things that are going right or wrong."
A stable and supportive environment matters – too – and Guarnier gets that in bucket loads from her team. She said: “It was really nice to come back to the same girls, and that's really part of the beauty of the team. I've been on this team since 2014 and it’s kind of been the same hub from year to year, and every year we've had even more great women added. This year we only added two new riders so I think that says something about the relationships within the team."
"That's always been my goal- to keep moving forward and progressing."
She added: “Team goals are really important, but they [the management] really force you to look into yourself and ask 'what are my individual goals?'. It’s a supportive environment."
And what are her goals? Rio is certainly up there – and at the Olympic road race Guarnier will be pitted against her trade team mate, Lizzie Armitstead as the Yorkshire rider races for Great Britain. However, she’s keeping an open mind – and said: “I had a good season last year, and I just hope to build on that. Rio is a goal. But I'm not stressing any individual race; I think it's important to keep my mind open. For me it's just building on what I started last year, and that's always been my goal- to keep moving forward and progressing."