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Megan Guarnier takes 1st women’s Strade Bianche in solo breakaway

Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans) soloed to victory on Saturday in the inaugural edition of the women’s Strade Bianche.

Guarnier, 29, the 2012 U.S. road champion and winner of the 2011 Tour of Tuscany, had been in a break with teammate Lizzie Armitstead and three other riders. The two took turns attacking the group, and it was Guarnier who got away with 15km to go in the 103km race from San Gimignano to Siena and stayed away to win.

“On the penultimate section of gravel Lizzie attacked on the steep section of gravel. As the road leveled out, I countered Lizzie’s attack and had a gap,” said Guarnier. “I was solo, so at that point I just had to keep bearing down and hope that I could make it to the finish.”

Armitstead took second on the day, 40 seconds down, while Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-Honda) rounded out the podium in third.

“I knew I had to put all my cards into that move and concentrate on the finish,” said Guarnier. “I never really had a really large gap.

“I knew Lizzie was behind me, and I know she had her work cut out for her. From what I hear the attacks from the other riders were relentless and Lizzie had to cover all of them. It gives you a lot of stength knowing that your teammates have your back.”

Longo Borghini said she was pleased with her finish and with the way the team set her up for the finale.

“The team worked really well until the longest section of gravel,” she said. “They managed to put me in the best position, and from there we were 15 riders, I think, with the majority of Boels, Rabo and Bigla. All I had to do was basically to follow them, and to stay with them.”

In the end, Longo Borghini said, it boiled down to a numbers game.

“They were too many for me; I couldn’t follow them,” she said. “But I’m satisfied. I’m really happy.”

Unsurprisingly, Guarnier said she’d like to see more races like the Strade Bianche.

“I loved the course,” she said. “I think it was a hard course, and it makes it more of a woman-to-woman battle than a matter of team tactics, because it becomes a select field by the end. It was a very complete race: you needed power to get through the wind, and you needed to hit the hard climbs, too. More races like this, please.”