2015.07.28 - News reporter
Itâ€™s another big block of racing done and dusted â€“ and a successful block at that. Emma Johansson heads home to Belgium with a third ThÃ¼ringen Rundfahrt overall title, three ThÃ¼ringen stage podiums and a top ten at a treacherous La Course.
â€œThe closest Iâ€™ve come to yesterdayâ€™s race before is training in the winter in Norway on the ice and the snow,â€ said Emma Johansson, speaking about La Course from Belgium on Monday. â€œThatâ€™s how slippery it was. At home, I have two or three riding with me. Here it was the whole peloton. It was so sketchy. I came down early in the race. That was the first crash â€“ and then it just got worse and worse and worse.â€
Johansson fought back following her crash and rejoined the peloton. Two laps later she found herself off the back again. She had flatted and would need a spare wheel from her team car in order to rejoin the race.
â€œLizzie [Williams] had a flat as we were going through the finish line, which was two-thirds of a lap before me, so when I called for the car, it was still coming back from helping Lizzie,â€ Johansson explained. â€œIt took a long time to reach me. I rode as fast as I could until they were behind me. If you stop, they might miss you coming back at full-speed.
â€œOther teams offered to stop and help me, which was nice, but because I have Shimano 11-speed, I didnâ€™t want to risk it and take a 10-speed,â€ Johansson continued. â€œItâ€™s really friendly and kind to have other teams stop. They risk if one of their riders have a problem that they wonâ€™t be there straight away. I thanked them but explained I could not risk it.â€
â€œAs I was coming back from the flat tyre, there was a really bad crash,â€ Johansson added. â€œCars were all over the road. I had to zig-zag everywhere to be able to pass them. Trixi [Worrack] had gone down, so she had I spent two laps riding back together. The peloton was far away and the speed was high as well. Because all the cars were helping riders, there wasnâ€™t really a caravan either.â€
â€œI wasnâ€™t going to do a crazy chase,â€ she noted. â€œIt would use too much energy. I spent two laps getting back.â€
By that time, Johanssonâ€™s teammates had begun to put their plan to race aggressively during the second half of the race into action. When Johansson rejoined the peloton, Gracie Elvin was up the road.
â€œThis allowed me to get to the front and back her up as I tried to recover,â€ Johansson explained. â€œLizzie and Spratty attacked when Gracie was caught. They were really good in filthy conditions.â€
The race-winning move came from Anna van der Breggen. The Giro Rosa overall winner jumped from a significantly reduced bunch just inside the final lap. She immediately opened up a gap.
â€œIn the end , Anna â€“ chapeau,â€œ said Johansson. â€œIt was the perfect move. I knew it was coming, but I still wasnâ€™t able to get in her wheel. She was racing down the back all the way, and her team had been aggressive. She has Lucinda [Brand] and Pauline [Ferrand-Prevot], but you know Anna is strong enough to do something. She got a gap and she just held it.â€
â€œI was going to be the finisher for the team, but I would have gone with her if I could,â€ Johansson had explained. â€œI would have taken that risk. Thereâ€™s was always going to be a chance that she would stay away â€“ especially with the dodgy corners and the rain. The conditions were in her favour. Last year, it was more of a peloton. This year, more than half the peloton stopped. It made it harder to chase.â€
Van der Breggen narrowly held off the peloton. Jolien dâ€™Hoore (Wiggle Honda) won the field sprint for second where Johansson finished in sixth place â€“ good for seventh on the day.
â€œWe had wished for rain, but I donâ€™t think any of us thought it was going to be an ice rink out there,â€ said Johansson. â€œWe kept the aggressive style of racing we did in ThÃ¼ringen, but this was a different race. Five of the six of us went down. Only Mel [Hoskins] stayed upright.â€
â€œIn the end, I felt like I was racing behind all day because of all these incidents,â€ Johansson added. â€œIt was just messy. It was a bit of a pity to waste more energy trying to stay upright and to be in the right position instead of racing properly.â€
â€œThe girls did really well,â€ Johansson confirmed. â€œWe raced aggressively, and we raced up the front. We did what we could.â€
â€œIâ€™m proud of how we raced at La Course, but what we take from this block is what we did at ThÃ¼ringen,â€ said Johansson.
Sheâ€™s referencing her brilliant victory at the seven-day, eight-stage German race. Twice an overall winner at ThÃ¼ringen Rundfahrt, Johansson started the final day of the race in fourth overall. Although she sat 30 seconds behind race leader Lisa Brennauer (Velocio-SRAM) as she lined-up for the final stage, she felt quietly confident that she could pull on the yellow jersey by stage end.
And she did.
â€œThe tactic was to throw absolutely everything we had at them,â€ explained Johansson. â€œThe goal was to ride as hard as we possibly could and take all sorts of risks in the process. Lisaâ€™s a good rider. Sheâ€™s world time trial champ for a reason. She can do a hard steady pace well, and so it was our job to make sure she didnâ€™t have a hard steady pace. We wanted to attack and attack and attack â€“ to disrupt.â€
Johansson knew her form had been growing steadily day-by-day. During the final few stages, she felt especially strong. The team collectively had put in its strongest showing in a stage race. Gracie Elvin won the stage three road race. Amanda Spratt had twice finished second (and would go on to sprint to third on the final stage). Chloe McConville rounded out the podium after a day spent in the break, and Johansson had snagged back-to-back second places mid-tour.
â€œI must admit that the first days I was diesel big time,â€ said Johansson. â€œI didnâ€™t feel bad, but I didnâ€™t feel super. When we passed half-way, I just got better and better. My legs were flying on Thursday, and Iâ€™m so happy I got to use them. Itâ€™s not always that you get to use your form.â€
“We knew we could make it hard,â€ said Johansson. â€œI went on the attack from the first kilometre, and from there, we never took off the pressure.â€
Spratt was the first of the ORICA-AIS riders to get a gap. She went up the road with a group that swelled to include 11 riders. Brennauerâ€™s teammate, Karol-Ann Canuel, who started the day in sixth overall, one spot behind Spratt, was there. Lauren Stephens (TIBCO-SVB), second overall, had also made the move. It wasnâ€™t the perfect scenario for the team, but it was a start.
Up the steepest climb in the stage, Johansson jumped from the bunch and began her steady ride across the breakaway. She took Brennauer and Amy Pieters (Netherlands) with her across the junction.
While it was a risky move to bring the yellow jersey up to the breakaway, it served to isolate Brennauer from all but one her teammates.
â€œThe more alone Lisa could be, the better for us,â€ said Johansson. â€œIt played into our hands in the end.â€
Spratt and Johansson threw absolutely everything they had at the breakaway in an effort to dislodge Brennauer. By the time they raced the start of the final 20-kilometre circuit lap, their efforts had proved successful. The yellow jersey had fallen off pace, and Johansson was well-poised to contend for the overall win.
â€œWhen we passed the finish line for the start of last lap, we knew exactly what we were going to do,â€ said Johansson. â€œComing over the top of the steep climb and realising that me and Spratty were there and Lisa was not and playing all our cards was probably the most satisfying and fun moment I have had this year. To play the game â€“ attack and counter-attack and go again. Every time Spratty went, I was resting before my next turn.”
Ten kilometres from the finish, Johansson launched one attack too many. The group was unable to respond. She had gotten a gap on her own.
â€œI thought: â€˜Holy shit. I did it. Iâ€™m on my own.â€™ and then Karol-Ann came up to me,â€ explained Johansson. â€œIt was the perfect situation for us. I later found out that Spratty had gotten away with Lauren Stephens, and thatâ€™s how we came to the line.â€
Canuel won the stage. Johansson won the overall. Spratt rounded out the stage podium and finished in fourth place in the tour.
â€œWe had been searching for a good moment all week,â€ said Johansson. â€œWe had been trying to get things up to road, and it hasnâ€™t always worked. Itâ€™s easy to lose your head and stop believing that itâ€™s possible. We never stopped to believe.â€
â€œFor the last day â€“ it was all or nothing,â€ she continued. â€œWe had nothing to lose. We were close, and we had to give our all â€“ and if we lost, it would be with the flag held up high. We were all so motivated at the start. At the team meeting, you almost get chicken skim from the excitement. From the word go, I was ready â€“ ready to hurt myself. And I know when Iâ€™m hurting, everyone else is hurting, too. I know all that hurt has to pay off in the end eventually, and this time it did.â€
â€œI honestly couldnâ€™t believe it in the end,â€ Johansson added. â€œI knew it was a game of seconds. Spratty and I were standing there after the finish, and we didnâ€™t know yet. Lauren wasnâ€™t too far behind, so we didnâ€™t know. Everyone was talking in German, and then one of my supporters from Belgium came over and confirmed it. It was a very exciting moment.â€
Elated after her third ThÃ¼ringen win, Johansson was full of praise for the strong team that made it all possible.
â€œIt was a great week for everyone,â€ Johansson said. â€œThere were so many podium, so many good results. Everyone did their fair share, and after a tough week, this was the reward. Itâ€™s been amazing for us all.â€
â€œWe started calling ourselves the â€˜Four Musketeersâ€™ by the end,â€ Johansson added. â€œAll four of us were on the podium during the week. Roy did a fifth place on the first day but she crashed out later in the week, and Mel couldnâ€™t start because of an allergic reaction. We joked that on this team, you either do podium or end up in the hospital trying.â€
Name: Emma Karolina Johansson.
Born: 23 Sep 1983, Sollefteå, Sweden.
Team: Wiggle High5
Sign up to the newsletter to get regular updates