|Interview: Getting to know Megan Guarnier|
|By Imelda March|
|Interview: Getting to know Megan Guarnier|
|Megan Guarnier is an American born cyclist of Italian heritage who begun her cycling career as a collegiate racer and is now part of the growing women’s professional bicycle racing segment.
She was privilege to quickly advance through the ranks but her first European win came in the land of her ancestors – Italy.
We caught up with Megan while she was visiting her parents in the east coast.
Megan is a member of the professional women’s racing team Team Tibco.
Megan Guarnier got stronger as the 2011 season progressed, culminating with her overall win at the Giro del Toscana, which earned her an automatic berth on the U.S. Olympic long team. Photo by Jonathan Devich, Epic Images
Daily Peloton: Tell me about yourself.
Megan Guarnier: I grew up in the Lake George area in the state of New York.
I attended Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont where I earned a bachelors of arts degree in neuroscience. (Note: Modest Megan failed to mention that she graduated summa cum laude.)
Ideally, I would like to do clinical research and my plan is to return to school when I retire from bicycle racing.
I love to read about the brain and, while at Middlebury College, I did research on alcohol tolerance and sensitivity. I studied why people get addicted to alcohol, why some people are more tolerant than others, etc.
I have one brother who is 21 months older than me. We spent a lot of time together because we were national level swim competitors. He attended Notre Dame for swimming and his specialty was the 200-fly. I got him into bikes and he crashed and suffered a rotator cuff injury and that pretty much ended his swimming career.
My brother was such a natural, in his second bike ride he went for a long ride and averaged 18 mph/29 kms. I was impressed!
My father was an engineer and runner and my mom keeps herself fit by running daily but she does not compete. My mother works for a medical device firm. Both my parents and my family are all very smart and supportive of me and my athletic endeavors.
I am very close to my entire family and try to visit at least twice per year. On Christmas Day we had about a 30 person gathering at our house in Lake George, NY.
”I think collegiate racing in the U.S. is an excellent entry point...”
DP: You travel a great deal for competition. What has been the most exciting venue or road course you have competed at and/or visited?
MG: I would say Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen voor Vrouwen), although I did not complete the race. I want to return to redeem myself because I crashed in this year’s race. I was at the bottom of a pile of 40 plus women. I broke a pedal and several other parts of the bicycle that made it impossible to continue.
Ronde has an amazing energy! Everyone cheers for the riders whether you are at the front or at the back of the pack.
DP: What are the major differences you have observed between racing in the USA and Europe? Why do you think that racing in Europe has become increasingly important?
MG: A lot the prestigious races are held in Europe. The UCI Women’s Road World Cup is held there and it is easier to get more women together because the sport is familiar to Europeans. Also everyone rides a bike for transportation and that makes them more aware of the sport of cycling.
In the U.S. bicycling is not as easy to access; it is more intimidating to new riders in the U.S. than in Europe.
I think collegiate racing in the U.S. is an excellent entry point because a rider has a support group and everyone is doing it together. If a person is about 28, for example, then you are a lone woman or man out there. One has to figure out where the races are, what category you may be, and all the racing nuances.
More women participate earlier in their lives because in Europe they have a culture of cycling. In the U.S. it is improving as there are more women racing today than when I began in 2004. I started racing collegiate in 2004 and continued racing outside of the collegiate ranks in 2005.
DP: How do you balance the life of a pro athlete with your other endevours?
MG: It is difficult! One has to keep organized and there is not a lot of downtime. One also tries to make time for social activities because it is important to have a social outlet and try to maintain family and friends.
DP: Do you get to pick what races/events you would like to participate in?
MG: This year I had a little more say on what races I wanted to do. With Team Tibco it is a great partnership because they are very supportive of what I want to do at the racing level. I am available to team races because there are times when one needs to be supportive of teammates and that make for good team success.
With Team USA you take the opportunity when it comes and try to be your best at the time you are called up to be part of representing the U.S. around the world.
DP: Are you friends with any of the pro-cycling riders? If so, who are you closest to?
MG: All my teammates, of course! Just being on the road and traveling you get to know a lot of other women racers.
I am closest to former Team Tibco, and professional rider, Brook Miller. Also, Katherine Curi Mattis is a friend and mentor.
My teammate Joanne Kiesanowski and I typically end up being roommates because we both love to enjoy the recovery – i.e. sleep for a long time! We love sleeping and yoga so we are a great pair.
Ideally in a perfect world if I could get nine hours of sleep that would be wonderful.
It is easier to be a morning person than a night owl.
DP: What race (s) do you dream of winning one day?
MG: The Olympics and the World Championships are races I would love to win.
DP: What do you think are the pressures of being a female bicycle racer?
MG: As an athlete I think we need to be in the best physical shape and we need to have an income. A female racer needs to be balanced and find a job that allows her to maintain traveling the world to pursue cycling requirements.
DP: Any plans to race in Latin America? There is the Vuelta El Salvador and others and Marion Voss won a stage there in 2008.
MG: Team USA was discussing the possibility of attending the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) race Vuelta El Salvador but I am not sure what decisions have been made yet. I was not able to race in either the Vuelta El Salvador or the Pan-American Championships this year but hope to make them one day.
One thing is for sure, I will be racing the women’s UCI road race, GP Cycliste Gatineau, in Canada.
”The London 2012 Olympic Games are the overriding goal!”
THE OLYMPICS and BEYOND
DP: In terms of racing, what are you looking forward most to in 2012?
MG: The London 2012 Olympic Games are the overriding goal! I want to make the Olympic team. I am going to have to get to the races and be in top form. This is in the forefront of my mind.
My thinking is that I am so close and for sure I would like to race the World Championships at the end of the year.
DP: What would you be doing if you were not a bicycle racer?
MG: I would be in school pursuing an MD/PhD. This requires a lot of years of school.
A running joke with my friends was always: “Megan will be a professional student.”
DP: How difficult will it be to get named to the short list and be part of Team USA for the London 2012 Olympic Games?
MG: It is going to be hard because there is only one spot for the road race. I need to do the speaking with my legs in 2012. There is an amazing amount of talent in the U.S. right now.
My understanding is that the there will be two spots for the time trial (TT) and three for the road race. But the same women who race the TT are also top road race Olympic contenders.
We need to get Team USA UCI ranking a little higher to be able to get a few more spots.
SOCIAL MEDIA & FAN CONNECTION
DP: What social media tools do you utilize to keep fans abreast of your performances? (for example: Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, etc.)
MG: I use Twitter to connect with my fans and followers. They may connect with me at @MeganGuarnier.
It would be equally beneficial for them to follow Team Tibco through @teamtibco and Facebook/TeamTIBCO.
GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY
DP: Do you participate or contribute to any local community development projects in which you hold a position or are you a? speaker/presenter to keep women pro-cycling top of mind? If so, which ones?
MG: We have a junior development team as part of Team Tibco and I spent some time with our junior girls and ran clinics with them. It is self-gratifying to provide them with a positive environment.
I really enjoy working with the younger women because they are very impressionable and it is important for them to discover who they are and if I can keep them encouraged and motivated – that is satisfying!
At a young age everyone is very critical and it is important to be encouraging to help these younger women correct techniques on/off the bike that will make them successful. I talk to them about bikes, but I also talk to them about the importance of academics.
DP: On a personal level, how are you giving back to the cycling community? What have you done/or are doing to promote women bicycle racing in the U.S. or elsewhere?
MG: Team Tibco does multiple clinics with women at races because that has been found most successful. Personally, I have done clinics on race tactics, bike handling and race dynamics.
My team and I have also visited schools to talk about what we do and we see the excitement in their eyes when we talk about riding our bikes.
One of my favorite events is the Best Buddies ride. It is my favorite event but I missed it this year because, on event day, I was away racing in Europe. Silicon Valley Banks sends a team and we get to ride with them.
This ride provides opportunities for people that are not offered anywhere else. The event helps them increase their quality of life.
DP: On a personal level, are you in a relationship? Does he/she participate in sports as well?
MG: One of the good things that happened to me is that I got engaged this year so I am off the market! I going to focus on London 2012 but my wedding plans will be some time after that.
My fiancé is a category 2 male rider who is trying to become category 1.
DP: What are your Sundays like? What do you do when you are not racing? What are your hobbies?
MG: Typically I have a big long ride (100-120 miles) then upon return I have a big meal. Following my meal, I catch up with things that I have not paid attention to – such as organizing my upcoming travel, work and racing weeks.
DP: What would we be surprised to learn about you?
MG: A funny story, when I was about 5-6 years old we would always have to go on a bike ride (about 20 miles/32 kilometers or so). My brother would run his tire into me. At one point in the ride I decided I was not going ride any further. So I stopped and laid the bike down. My mother left me behind with an uncle while she returned home to get the car to pick me up because I would not pedal any longer.
My family’s original name was Guarnieri but my grandfather changed it when he immigrated to the United States because he could not find work. Once he changed it to what has remained as Guarnier – a more French sounding name, he was able to find a job. As a matter of fact the Italian paper spelled my name as ‘Guarneri’ when I won the the Giro della Toscana – Femminile.
DP: What music is in your play list?
MG: I love music and I listen to all sorts of music.
For my warm-ups, I love to listen to Girl Talk.
I like alternative, hip-hop, blue grass, folk, classical and I am not a music snob!
I appreciate a lot of music but country is not in my repertoire-but I enjoy Blue Grass.
DP: Do you train with a power meter? If so, how long have you been using it? What immediate results have you discovered by using this tool?
MG: Yes, I do. The power meter is great because I can send the files to my coach daily and then we can discuss things.
The biggest thing that the power meter allows me to learn is to know how strong I am regardless if I am nervous at the beginning of races.
I can tell on a daily basis the number ranges. The power meter basically allows me to measure my progress.
COMPENSATION & MINIMUM SALARY FOR WOMEN
DP: Do you work outside of your life as a professional female racer? What do you do (speaking engagements, modeling, etc.)?
MG: I work part time at an engineering company that does risk assessment. I am basically a technical assistant and I work closely with the engineers although I am not an engineer. I work on a ton of mathematical calculations and document revisions.
Beyond doing both the Team Tibco portraits and action shots I am not engaged in the modeling industry.
DP: What is the largest paycheck/prize you have earned/collected from bicycle racing?
MG: The largest price I collected and split with my teammates was the Tour de Nez in 2010. The four women who accompanied me took home $800 each from three days of racing.
DP: There’s lots of chatter on-line about women’s bicycle racing. Most recently, World champion Georgia Bronzini stated that her Jersey is worth as much as Cavendish.
Pat McQuaid was asked about a minimum wage for women riders, and said he didn’t think the sport had reached that level yet. What is your position about the UCI as it pertains to implementing minimum wages for women racers?
MG: I agree with both Georgia Bronzini and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg on the subject of minimum wages for women and I don’t think I have any more insight than those two amazing athletes.
Yes, it is frustrating and it is unfair that I don’t get wages like the men but this is not something that I can change overnight. My goal is to continue to give back to the community and help women’s racing to get more publicity for their sport.
I am not doing it for the money – I am doing it for the love of the sport.
I tend not to spend too much time to think about it because it creates a lot of negativity and I need to stay positive to achieve my goals.
Yes, we need to get more recognition and credit for what we do.
Note: Pat McQuaid is a former Irish professional road racing cyclist and current president of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). The UCI is the world governing body for sports cycling and oversees international competitive cycling events. The UCI is based in Aigle, Switzerland.
RAISING THE BAR
DP: Starting out in 2005 you made a fast move up the categories, getting on the podiums, and not long after that wining races. Did winning come easy when you started racing or did you struggle at first to win and move up the ranks?
MG: It is always a challenge because there are about 60 women and you are trying to get the first spot. Earlier in my career I was scared of sprinting but my coaches encourage me to sprint and that helped me win more races.
I love it! There is so much that goes into winning, but I did win my first race and it helped me increase my interest in continuing.
DP: Your best victory came in the 2011 Giro della Toscana. What did that feel like to ride over the line on the final day knowing you had won?
MG: It is somewhat surreal having won a 2.1 UCI race. As I rode over the line I did not do a victory salute because I wanted to be sure and I was looking around for someone to assure me that I had won. Then I had to ride back and find someone to tell me so.
It is kind of this thing that you dream of. It was fun to be the first American woman to win the race. I was 99% sure that I won but I wanted to be sure that I did not do any public display of excitement till I was completely sure of winning the race.
The team for that race was Taylor Wiles, Janel Holcomb, Kristin McGrath, Carmen Small and Robin Farina.
DP: Tell me a little bit about the Dr. Vie chocolates; are they just chocolate candy or a serious energy food for races? What do they taste like/texture?
MG: They are mostly chocolate, all natural and gluten/nut free. It is a snack that can hold you through the day. It is actually the thing to have just before the race as a meal replacement. They are about 220 to 260 calories per bar.
DP: Your raced in the La Flèche Wallonne Féminine. Which would have been a quote of yours: “Boy oh boy, another cobble section!” or “who in God's name built this road out of rocks?”
MG: Actually La Flèche Wallonne Féminine does not have lots of cobbles. This is the race with the steep Mur de Huy (The wall of Huy). This climb just keeps going–the steepness and narrowness is a never-ending – it feels as if you keep making hairpin turns and you keep seeing more climbing.
DP: What favors your talent and which do you prefer--the northern Classics or something with long, tough climbs?
MG: I am road racer who prefers the short and steep punchy climbs. The races in Europe range in distances of 100-140 kms/62-87 miles with climbs that are about 10-14% grade average and a length of 1-3 kms/0.61-1.86 miles.
I prefer harder courses where those come one after the other.
I enjoy the intensity of the criteriums, but I see myself as an all-rounder who enjoys the single day races as well.
There are so many options in racing--it really never gets old.
DP: Is there anything else you would like to add?
MG: Yes, I would like to thank Team Tibco and Linda Jackson for supporting me and my teammates and providing the opportunity to travel to Europe. We were one of the first U.S.-based UCI registered women’s teams and she made it happen.
TIBCO Software Inc. has been with the team since its inception.
Linda knows what it takes to be a champion and she is here to help women achieve their goals. Silicon Valley Bank, one of our sponsors, helps small businesses achieve their goals. Thus, I see Team Tibco like a small business that achieves big goals on a global level.
About the author: An experienced racer, Imelda March lives in Chicago and is a member of Team Kenda. She is a frequent contributor to The Daily Peloton Cycling News team, reporting on women’s cycling news and general peloton ramblings. She also holds an MBA, and is a marketing strategy expert and a social media team member/contributor to the Chicago chapter of the American Marketing Association.
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