Emma Johansson Continues String of Thirds at Ronde Van Drenthe

Sun 10 Mar 2013

ORICA-AIS put two riders in the top ten at the first World Cup of the season. Emma Johansson continued her string of third-place finishes as she soloed across the line in Hoogeveen and rounded out the podium at Ronde Van Drenthe behind Marianne Vos (Rabobank Liv/Giant) and Ellen Van Dijk (Specialized-lululemon). Tiffany Cromwell finished with the first main chase group to slot into ninth place. In his own words, Sport Director Dave McPartland describes the day. 

Before I start in on the racing action, let’s talk about the weather. It was an absolutely atrocious day. We saw 1°C as the low temperature and 3°C as the maximum, so it was consistently cold all day. Add sleety rain and gusty wind to the cold. The roads were 100% wet – everywhere on the course. I felt a bit sorry for the girls when I first stepped outside, but they're tough. If we had just flown in from the Australian summer, it might have been a different story. Luckily, they’re used to these conditions by now. 

The race began with a six kilometre neutral section, and the first crash of the day happened before the official start had even been given. I knew then that the girls were in for a long, hard, dangerous day.

Despite the constant difficulties, the first hour of racing was rather quiet. I couldn’t call it calm, but there just wasn’t much action. We didn’t want to do anything until just before the second cobble section, and it seemed that other teams shared this idea.

The first cobbles comes early after 20 kilometres of racing, but it’s a nothing sort of section. The second cobbles are at kilometre 50, and they're 3.5 kilometres long. It’s a really rough section and a super critical point in the race, so there’s not much motivation to do much up until that point.

Before the second section of cobbles, we got well-organised. We’re doing a great job of getting together when and where we planned to come to the front. When it's time, all six of us get there. I was happy to hear that we did that well again today. All six ORICA-AIS riders were on the front when we hit this potentially decisive part of the race. 

From the second cobble section, there are three more cobble sections in quick succession. The race split into several groups over these cobbles. From what the girls told me and what I heard over race radio, it was constant split, regroup and split some more. We were always well-represented at the front.

Twenty-five kilometres from the finish, the race goes over the VAMberg. Ever year, this is always a hard moment in the race. It was hard here today, as well, but nothing happened. The significant moves started during the last lap.

I only learned after the race that Emma had crashed when we went through the finish town of Hoogeveen. She fell and quickly got back up only to realise she was having a bit of a mechanical issue. Her bike would shift only between the last couple of cogs, so she was stuck with hard gears. When I learned what had happened after the race, I told her she should have dropped back to the car for a new bike. She said she looked behind her and didn’t see us right there. She didn’t have the confidence that she could drop back for the bike change and make it up to the front again. It was a fair enough concern I suppose. At any rate, she decided to keep racing on the broken bike.

As we came into the VAMberg for the last time with 13 kilometres left to race, we had three on the front. Emma, Loes [Gunnewijk] and Tiff [Cromwell] did an awesome job. Stuck in a hard gear, Emma lost position as Vos attacked and got a gap straightaway.

The girls have slightly different reports about what happened next, so I’ll tell you the bits where they seem to agree. After the descent, Van Dijk attacked. There was a bit more than ten kilometres left in the race at this point, and Emma was in the second group on the road after having lost position due to her mechanical issue. So, it was Vos leading with Van Dijk chasing followed by Tiff and Loes in the first main group and Emma in the second group.

Emma was able to jump out of the second group and make her way to the first chase group of 20-25 riders. From there, she worked her way from the back to the front of the group – and then off the front of that group. Van Dijk had not yet caught Vos as Emma started her chase, so when I realised she had a clear gap, I thought maybe she could make it up to Van Dijk.

When I learned that Van Dijk had successfully bridged to Vos, I knew Emma’s chances were slim. Van Dijk is a TT specialist, and it was now two against one. Emma got within ten seconds at one juncture, but she couldn’t quite manage to close that last little gap. Emma crossed the finish line 15 seconds behind Vos and Van Dijk. Vos took her third consecutive Ronde Van Drenthe win. Hats off to her for that.

Behind Emma, Tiff managed to put herself into a group of six riders – all sprinters. She did exactly as she should have done in that chase group. She sat on and waited for the sprint. Tough luck for her to sprint against the likes of Chloe Hosking (Hitec Products UCK), Kristen Wild (Argos-Shimano) and Shelley Olds (TIBCO / To The Top). She took sixth in the sprint for ninth overall.

It was a strong team effort today, and despite our misfortunate with Emma’s mechanical, it was a good showing in the results. I know Emma is frustrated with her string of third places, and I can understand that. Still, she’s running third in all sorts of different situations and scenarios.

We’d rather see her win, of course, but I think her results over the last two weeks show that her fitness is strong and her skills are versatile. She’s one of the strongest climbers in the world. She’s also one of the best sprinters. After Vos, Emma is probably the most versatile bike racer there is. With a strong team supporting her, we’re confident she’ll pull off a big win soon.