Megan Guarnier had already won two road race national championships. She qualified for the U.S. Olympic team with her bronze medal at last year’s world championships.
In other words, she had nothing to lose on Saturday in this year’s national championships in North Carolina.
So the veteran cyclist remained patient while attack after attack failed, and then used her experience and strong legs to overpower young star Coryn Rivera to win her second consecutive national title. Durango’s Carmen Small, coming off a victory in Friday’s time trial national championship, finished seventh to again help bolster her 2016 Summer Olympics hopes.
“Obviously it was a bigger bunch at the finish, and it’s a bigger gamble when it comes down to that, especially with strong sprinters like Coryn,” Guarnier said. “It was a tough sprint, and there was a lot going on in the final. I just had to stay focused and look for that line.”
In the men’s race, Gregory Daniel rode away from the field to win an unanticipated championship.
Guarnier winning the women’s race was no such surprise.
The top rider in the women’s peloton only had Evie Stevens from her Boels-Dolmans team to support her in the race around Winston-Salem. But she managed to draft off Stevens in the final uphill climb to the finish, conserving enough energy to hold off the fast-finishing Rivera at the line.
It was the second straight year Guarnier beat Rivera at the line. Mandy Heintz took bronze.
“It’s surreal because I’m the still the same Megan,” Guarnier said, “and I’m still racing as hard as I can. Every day it’s a new challenge.”
The men’s race, run in the midst of blistering heat, also came down to the final lap of the undulating course, when Daniel pulled away from teammate Logan Owen with about 3 miles remaining.
“In the last lap, it was Logan off the front, so I could just relax and not do anything,” Daniel said. “When he got caught, there were a few moves off the front, but I think everyone was just kind of tired at that point. I was just following wheels.”
Alex Howes finished second and Travis McCabe finished third.
“I think deep down I didn’t think it was possible, like maybe there’s a point-one percent chance,” Daniel said. “I had really good legs today, but I still can’t believe it. I’m expecting myself to wake up in bed thinking, ‘Oh yea, that’s just a dream.”’
The Durango Herald contributed to this report.