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Guarnier continues Olympics prep in California

American Megan Guarnier spends much of her year in France and away from her family, but the sacrifices allow her to live out her dream.

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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (VN) — Less than three months before the start of cycling events at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Megan Guarnier is in a unique position among U.S. road cyclists. She’s the only rider whose participation is known.

Four women and two men will comprise the team named June 24, and logical cases could be made for several other riders. But with her bronze medal last September in the road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Guarnier has the only automatic spot on the squad.

Guarnier’s effort in Richmond was the first podium finish for a U.S. woman at the event in more than 20 years. That has given the veteran rider a feeling of relief this season, including this week as the reigning and two-time national road champion joins her Boels – Dolman teammates during the women’s Tour of California.

“I haven’t had to focus on my own results this year because I do have my spot,” said Guarnier, 31, a former New Yorker who now primarily lives in France. “I can concentrate on preparing for Rio rather than trying to always force a result.”

Since beginning her season in February, Guarnier has raced well consistently. She has two wins, including stage 4 of Euskal Emakumeen Bira in Spain on April 17. Three days later, she finished third at La Flèche Wallonne Feminine in Belgium. Guarnier also has three runner-up results and 10 top-10 finishes in her 16 race days this season leading into the Tour of California.

“I really prefer challenging road races, so of course I am looking at stage 1 and stage 3,” said Guarnier of California’s itinerary. “Our team is in a good position to do well on the TTT and l look forward to doing that. But for me personally, the road races are something I always focus on.”

Guarnier first traveled to France nearly a decade ago with the U.S. National team. She returned in 2009 with the guidance of a new mentor who found her a place on a local team in Southern France. She competed in French Cup events and a few UCI races and eventually decided to live near Carcassonne. It’s a gateway city to the Pyrenees, where Guarnier relishes pedaling for hours in bliss.

She lives in Europe eight to nine months per year, returning to the U.S. for key events and then training out of San Mateo, California.

“It’s difficult now with my husband back working in the Silicon Valley,” said Guarnier. “We are nine time zones apart. But in order for me to race at the top level I need to be where the top racing is and that’s in Europe.

“It’s a big sacrifice being away from my husband and my family for pretty much the whole year. But I love what I do, so there’s a sacrifice you have to make. Of course, the training is unbelievable. I can go on a four-hour ride and see five cars. You can ride on all sorts of challenging terrain. It’s a really good place.”

Since she first knew of her Olympic berth eight months ago, news of environmental concerns, potential health risks, delays in the construction of venues, and other issues with the Rio Games have increased. But Guarnier remains unfazed.

“There’s a lot in the news right now about Rio and I am hoping for the best since it’s the Olympic Games,” she said. “I am hoping they will have everything figured out for the Olympic Village.

“I guess I am lucky because my event is only on the roads, they are already there and we know the course. I try not to stress [about] the things I can’t control at the moment. I’ve always dreamed of going to the Olympics. This is my opportunity and I am going to take it.”