Emma Johansson was the top finisher in fifth place for ORICA-AIS at today’s gruelling La Flèche Wallonne Féminine. Marianne Vos (Rabo Women) took the top honours while earning her record breaking fifth victory atop the Mur de Huy. Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec) barely nudged Ashleigh Moolman (Lotto Belisol Ladies) off the second step in what came down to a decision by the jury after they crossed the finish line. Tiffany Cromwell finished ninth.
“It was quite a good day,” said Sport Director Dave McPartland. “In the end the result wasn’t what we had hoped for, but the team gave it 100 percent all day. We rode our own race and did not let any other team dictate our strategy.”
“Our plan was to make the race as hard as possible as early as possible,” added Cromwell. “We wanted to force Rabo to work early in hopes of isolating Vos with fewer numbers to help in the end. Jessie [MacLean] and Loes [Gunnewijk] did the early work, Shara [Gillow] started attacking and Spratty [Amanda Spratt] and I were there to keep Emma as fresh as possible.”
“Shara was in the early move with six or seven other riders,” Cromwell continued. “Unfortunately Hitec missed it, so they brought it back. On the second lap we struggled to get anything away. With 15 kilometres to go, we focused on putting Emma in the best possible position leading into the Mur.”
After 50 kilometres of racing, the first major break of the day formed over the Côte de Bohisseau. The chase was on to catch the eight riders in the front group. The peloton hit the first ascent of the Mur gruppo compatto, but the field shattered as the riders crested this beast of a climb.
As the riders took on food and drink at the front of the race, the fragmented peloton once again merged to form one large group. The peloton stayed together until it was within the final ten kilometres. As the kilometres ticked down, only Tatiana Guderzo (MCipollini) was able to escape and gain any significant advantage on the charging field.
“The valley leading into the Mur was windy which caused the bunch to swarm a lot,” described Cromwell. “We wanted a clean run in to the Mur for Emma but first we had to bring back Guderzo. Shara and Spratty went to the front and reeled her in. Shara kept going full gas into the Mur and then Spratty took over the charge. I came around Spratty with about one kilometre to go. At 500 metres to go Emma took off with six other riders to the finish.”
On a climb like the Mur de Huy where the hardest part comes within the final 100 metres, it’s often hard to predict who will cross the line victorious until the first wheel crosses the line.
“The lead in to the Mur de Huy was perfect with Shara, Spratty and Tiff on the front,” said Johansson. “I was feeling confident because I could start the climb at my pace and dictate how fast we’d go. At 150 metres to go I could feel riders behind me breathing down my neck. I knew I couldn’t wait any longer and tried to go faster. Vos kicked off the sprint and I tried to stand up to go with her and the others, but I was parked. Today there were four others who were better than me.”
While Johansson is disappointed with her result, she is extremely proud to be on such a supportive team. Without the hard work coming from every one of her teammates, Johansson realizes she might not be in a position to contend for the podium at all.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be on a team that allows you to ride with such confidence because you know everyone will do their job,” said Johansson. “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Today was not my day, but it was awesome to have someone looking out for me all day long.”
Cromwell is happy with her top ten result, which is a reflection of her dedication to being a team player all the way to the finish.
“Personally, I am happy with my race,” declared Cromwell. “I was flying at the start of the season and then came down a little when I got sick. I was motivated for today and felt really good. This kind of racing suits me. I was able to put in a lot of attacks and do my job for the team. Leading up the first part of the Mur was pretty cool – to be on the front of the race in front of such a big crowd on such a legendary climb was really cool. I was able to finish ninth on the day by virtue of doing my job.”
Johansson, who bases herself in Zingem, Belgium, is never at a race without her Team Emma Johansson supporters cheering her on. As usual, they based themselves at the most decisive place along the route and decorated their space with Swedish flags and signs of support for Johansson. Their presence helps lesson the sting of her disappointment.
“Team Emma Johansson is made up of neighbours from where I live,” explained Johansson. “They have become good friends and support me win or lose. The people are just lovely. It’s especially nice to have local support even though I am a foreigner.”