When round three of the Women’s Road World Cup begins at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) Sunday, this year’s top performing team, Boels-Dolmans, will be marked women. The Dutch squad has dominated this season, taking six victories and the general classification at the Ladies Tour of Qatar. Those wins have been achieved by four of the 10 riders on the roster.
One of the athletes to win is American Megan Guarnier. Born in upstate New York but now living the European dream with her husband in France, the 29-year-old won the first edition of the women’s Strade Bianche last month. She has been joined on the team this year by three-time U.S. time trial champion Evelyn Stevens, further strengthening the Dutch outfit.
Boels-Dolmans has been building steadily over recent years. Little more than a club team in 2012, last year saw the team win the women’s World Cup with Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead. For 2015, team manager Danny Stam has recruited wisely, reducing the roster to 10 and focusing on quality riders.
Guarnier was joined in 2014 by Ellen van Dijk, the world time trial champion at the time, whose Dutch compatriot Chantal Blaak signed on with Stevens this year, leaving Specialized-Lululemon. Collectively, they form a strong team for most race scenarios, but they also have the talent and strength to take the title the team covets most: the world team time trial championship to be held in Richmond, Virginia, this September — an ambition that fits perfectly with Stevens’ own.
“I’m undefeated at the worlds team time trial, and I would like to maintain that,” said Stevens, winner since the reintroduction of the event in 2012, with no hint of arrogance. “It’s one of the most satisfying wins out there, to stand up on the top podium and wear a gold medal with your team is just awesome.”
The cohesion required to achieve that is already there, according to Guarnier, who told VeloNews, “When you sit and laugh and appreciate each other, you respect each other off the bike, then there’s the respect on the bike. Then you’re willing to work for that person and have equal amount of satisfaction whether it works for me or it works for my teammate.”
Stevens’ move came after five successful years at American-managed, German-registered teams.
“I had been on Highroad then Specialized-Lululemon my whole career, and I just needed something different,” the 30-year-old told VeloNews.
Her decision was helped when Specialized announced its intention to concentrate sponsorship with the Dutch team.
“They were definitely a big part of my consideration,” Stevens said. “They’re much more than a bike to me.”
For Guarnier, this is her third year on Dutch teams, having spent 2013 riding with Marianne Vos on Rabobank-Liv before joining rival Boels-Dolmans last season.
“It’s challenging with the language and on Rabo there were mostly Dutch girls, so I tried to learn Dutch,” Guarnier said. “It is different being on a team with women who have been racing since they were six, they had more years under their belt, yet they were six, seven years younger than me. It brings your level up.”
To Stevens, the international nature of her previous teams meant her new team held no culture shock for her.
“It’s funny, people said to me, ‘Oh you’re going to a European team,’ but they forget I’ve always been on a European-centric team my whole career, so that’s not new for me,” Stevens said.
Instead it was team dynamic that proved essential to secure the move.
“We [Stevens and Guarnier] roomed together at the Pan Ams and she told me that she really enjoyed the team,” Stevens said. “That was my main thing.”
Of course, this year is a special one for both of them; not only are the world championships in Richmond, the Philly Classic is now on the World Cup calendar. Both provide extra motivation.
“It’s the coolest thing in the whole world, it’s amazing,” Stevens said.
For Guarnier, being able to ride in front of family and friends is important.
“Everybody’s flying in for it. The nationals is the only race I’ve done in the U.S. in two years; they’ll all come because it’s the one time they get to see me race and they love it.”
Though Stevens is unlikely to factor in Flanders this weekend, Guarnier is sure to be at the sharp end. Come September, however, don’t be surprised to see the two Americans leading their Dutch team to the top step of the Richmond podium.