Emma Johansson Does It Again

Fri 19 Jul 2013

Emma Johansson sprinted to her second Thüringen Rundfahrt stage victory in Altenburg from an elite group of 17 riders. The bonus seconds she banked further extended her race lead in the German tour.

“It’s never easy to win a bike race, but I feel at home on this course,” said Johansson. “It’s a stage I have won in the past. I like the technical finish, and I think when you enjoy yourself and have fun, it makes the racing a bit easier. You’re working with the course instead of against it. It was a good day for us, and I was happy to finish off the team’s work with the win.”

“I’m pinching myself at how well the girls are riding and the way this tour has unfolded into our hands,” added Sport Director David McPartland. “The team has been riding bloody brilliantly.”

ORICA-AIS raced aggressively in the first three road stages before unleashing Johansson to defend her overall lead in yesterday’s time trial. With a sizeable advantage over Tatiana Guderzo (MCipollini-Giordana) in third and a hold on both first and second ahead of the stage five start, the Australian outfit has switched tactics for the second half of the race.

“The plan today was a bit tricky,” said McPartland. “We’re sort of in this funny place where we’re a long way from the finish but there’s a feeling in the bunch that a lot of the damage has already been done and much of the general classification confirmed. There are two hard days of racing over the weekend. Today was more of a transitional stage. We would have been happy to allow a non-threatening break to stay away today.”

“Our number one priority was to protect Emma’s overall lead,” McPartland continued. “Secondly, we’d protect second place for Shara [Gillow]. The two goals aren’t necessarily in conflict. We were prepared to accomplish our objective defensively rather than offensively the way we raced in the first half of the week. We looked to control who went up the road.”

While ORICA-AIS would have permitted a breakaway to fight for the stage victory amongst themselves, the peloton had other ideas. The first lap was fast and aggressive. Repeated attacks proved ineffective in splitting the bunch.

“The team did a bloody good job controlling in the first lap,” said McPartland. “When we started the second lap, the bunch began to split.”

McPartland could see the lead group taking shape ahead of the bunch. He knew he had riders in the move but was forced to wait for race radio to confirm the composition of the group.

“I knew were in it, but I couldn’t tell with who,” said McPartland. “They started to read off the numbers, beginning with Rabobank. They had four in the move. I began to sweat a little. If we only had one or two, we might have been in a bit of trouble. Then they read our numbers over the radio. We had three riders in the move, and it was our three best placed. Emma, Shara and Spratty [Amanda Spratt] had made the split. ‘You bloody legends,’ I thought. “What nice work.” From there, it was working out who else was in the group.”

Four riders in the top ten overall had missed the split. Guderzo, who had started the day in third, was the most notable absence. Specialized-lululemon teammates Ellen van Dijk and Carmen Small, eighth and ninth overnight, were also missing along with Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans).

“The initial gap was fairly small,” said McPartland. “A few teams had missed out, and they were chasing. In the third lap, one of the bridge attempts was successful. Four riders made it across. Guderzo had initially been with the group that bridged but she cracked before making it to the leaders. We definitely didn’t expect that. The group that bridged broke the band, and the peloton finally sat up, allowing the gap to open.”

Happy with the composition of the group, Johansson, Gillow and Spratt contributed to the pace-making. They extended their advantage beyond the seven minute mark.

“We rode on the front to show that we were happy with the move,” explained McPartland. “We wanted to demonstrate our respect for the others by sharing in the work. I don’t want to make it sound like we forced the pace – we didn’t do that, but we didn’t sit on when we could have, either.”

In an attempt to incite a further selection, riders in the front group launched a fresh series of attacks in the last lap of the stage. Johansson joined Lucinda Brand (Rabobank Women), Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini Giordana) and Anna Van der Breggen  (Sengers Ladies) in the most significant of these moves.

“Wiggle brought that back because their two riders had missed it,” noted McPartland. “There were a few attacks after that group was caught but nothing like what we had anticipated.”

Johansson won a three-up sprint over Brand and Scandolara for the stage victory. The trio slightly distanced their breakaway companions in the run-in towards the line.

“We had already seen the finish three times before the sprint,” said Johansson. “I knew I wanted to be the first or second rider through a series of corners in the last half-kilometre. The finish was technical. We reached the top of a hill 1.5km from the finish. There was a sharp right-hander followed by another right-hand turn at 600m. From there, it’s right, left again and down the last corner with cobbles until the line.”

“Spratty took me up over the top of the hill and gave me a few moments where I could breathe and get ready for the final,” Johansson added. “I was the first through the two right-handers. Lucinda Brand attacked after that, but I went straight to her wheel. She was the first one through the last turn, but I know how I can take that corner to bring the most speed with me. I came out of the corner with quickest, and I sped past to her to take the win.”

With two stages left to race, Johansson leads by 30” over Gillow and 1’34 by Lisa Brennauer (Specialized-lululemon). Brennauer is tied on time with former Thüringen Rundfahrt overall winner Linda Villumsen (Wiggle Honda) in fourth and Van der Breggen in fifth.

“It will be interesting racing with those three tied on time for third place,” noted Johansson. “They’ll fight for the final podium place, and when they attack each other, it’s also an attack on us. There are so many things that can happen in any race. We’re in a good position. I’m happy we’re feeling strong, but we can’t relax. We need to stay a step ahead of everyone else.” 

“The racing this weekend will be hard, especially Sunday’s stage,” said McPartland. “We’re not complacent. A lot can happen in two days, but we came here to win. We’re in a great position to continue to put our efforts into accomplishing that goal. Anything beyond that at this point is a bonus.