Guarnier: Jaw injury frustrating, but it isn’t affecting my training

A jaw injury sustained at the Bergen world championships has required plenty of rehab, but Megan Guarnier is ready to get back to winning bike races.

Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans) arrived at the Bergen road world championships last September dreaming of rainbow stripes, but she left Norway with a broken jaw.

A serious crash turned what should have been a great shot for the American all-rounder into a long rehab that lasted through the offseason. With the Women’s WorldTour fully underway in March, however, she’s back to racing, and as hungry as ever to get back to the level that saw her win the Women’s WorldTour overall in 2016.

“Last season started with a concussion, and then I was so ready and so fit for the worlds,” she told VeloNews this week in a phone interview. “To not be able to display my fitness at the end of the day at the worlds really lit a fire in me to be back at that level. And I think I’m back at that level, to be able to get some good results this year.”

Following surgery, Guarnier spent much of the past winter dealing with the ramifications of her injury. Even six months removed from the Bergen crash, her jaw is not functioning quite the way she’d like.

“I have a hard time with any of the sounds that are at the front of my mouth because unfortunately my jaw isn’t lined up. So there is still a lot of rehab and a lot of physical therapy that I’m doing,” she said.

“It’s been a super frustrating and incredibly annoying process. When you break a bone, generally, it’s simple. You recover, and then you get that strength back. But with the jaw, everything is affected: speech, eating, I have to wear a mouth guard a night because it spasms.”

The frustration and annoyance have not, however, dampened Guarnier’s morale. Crucially, it isn’t hindering her on the bike either.

“It sucks, but at this point it hasn’t been affecting my training at all. That’s the good news,” she said.

She also notes that despite sustaining two injuries above the shoulders in one season, she knows being a pro cyclist involves accepting some risks. As such, she still plans on doing her job this season and beyond, even when the racing gets “gnarly.”

“I don’t like it when women take silly risks – that doesn’t make me happy, because both of the really bad accidents last year happened because either something happened in front of me or I just got hit from behind,” she said. “But that’s kind of road racing and these things are out of my control. That’s one of the facts that I have to accept being a road racer.”

As she works back into peak form, Guarnier will be surrounded – as always – by several of the peloton’s most talented riders, on women’s cycling’s strongest team. Heading into last season, fresh off her career year in 2016, Guarnier’s status as one of the top dogs was obvious.

2017 did not go the way she’d hoped, but that doesn’t mean Guarnier is at all concerned about the role she had carved out for herself before last season.

“I’m not worried about that. Even though we talk about last season as being ‘such a dud,’ I still won races, so I still showed that I had the form,” she said. “There were other races that I could have won but I decided that I was going to help a teammate in that race. And that’s something that Boels Dolmans does really well. And specifically [team manager] Danny [Stam] does extremely well. He can manage all of the riders and all the personalities and it feels natural. It’s not forced.

“You get 11 women together, we have strong personalities, but it’s never been a problem with Boels because we know that whatever we put into the team, we get back out. And Danny always makes sure that that’s the case. You know that if you give up ‘X’ race, down the line, at ‘Y’ race the team is going to be behind you.”

Indeed, Guarnier did enjoy plenty of success in 2017, particularly after recovering from her concussion. She won stages at the Amgen Women’s Race, the Giro Rosa, and the Ladies Tour of Norway. She finished fourth overall in the Giro and at La Course and took GC runner-up honors in Norway. That leaves plenty to build on this season.

Guarnier got her 2018 campaign underway two weeks ago at Strade Bianche. Her teammate Anna van der Breggen rode to a convincing victory. Guarnier was solid in her return to racing, finishing 12th on the day. She says she was hoping for a better personal result, but that she was happy with her form in her first race of the year, and excited to see van der Breggen achieve what had been a big objective.

Guarnier is back to racing this weekend at the next stop on the Women’s WorldTour, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda. Beyond that, her calendar is less certain, though Guarnier says the Ardennes are an objective, with the cobbled classics and a possible return to the Amgen Women’s Race as other potential targets.

If the last several years are any indication, her team will be in the mix in every one of those events, and many more. Guarnier believes Boels Dolmans will remain dominant this season, even with the recent news that former world champion Elizabeth Deignan will take a break from racing as she and husband Philip Deignan (Team Sky) expect their first child.

“She’s super excited and you can just tell. I’m excited for her. Of course it leaves a big hole in our team, but then again, we’ve already done a handful of races without her and we have been able to step up to the plate,” Guarnier said.

Further down the line, the Innsbruck world championships are a clear goal for Guarnier. A climber’s worlds gives her the perfect chance to put her talents on display. After the frustrations of last year’s race in Bergen, she is hungry to take on what she acknowledges will be a big challenge this fall.

“There is always something special about the worlds,” she said. “It’s a really hard race to win because you’re taken out of your trade team, so you race with the same 10 women all year and then all the sudden you’re in a new team. It’s hard to make it work but it’s always a big goal of mine.”