Emma Johansson Sprints to Second in Spring Classics Opener

Sat 1 Mar 2014

The ever-consistent Emma Johansson opened her Spring Classics account with a strong second place showing at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The Swede was part of a four rider escape group that took shape over the Paterberg. With the finish line in sight, the lead group had been reduced to three riders and the first chase group had Johansson and company within sight. The trio managed to fend off the chasers with Amy Pieters (Giant Shimano) besting Johansson in the sprint. Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) rounded out the podium.

“The chase group was closing quickly,” said Sport Director Gene Bates. “Even with a half kilometre left, we weren’t sure if they were going to make it. They only had a handful of seconds at that point.”

“Emma said she was exhausted coming into the finish,” Bates added. “She tried to get out of her saddle to start her sprint but had to sit back down again. There were three really tired ladies at the finish, and Emma was good enough to finish second today.”

The first hour of racing was filled with numerous crashes, most involving multiple riders. Johansson hit the ground shortly after the peloton ascended the Tiegemberg. She managed to quickly jump to her feet and remount her bike. 

“The early crashes showed the nervousness of the bunch over the narrow roads,” explained Bates. “We were fortunate to have only one rider involved in those early crashes – and that was Emma. She had some minor issues with her bike, so we had to do a couple of bike changes after that. We managed to get her all sorted just in time – right before the Côte de Trieu.”

The peloton had stayed together after the gentle climbs leading up the Côte de Trieu, the first of a quick succession of climbs that serve as prelude to the cobbles in the final hour of racing. Armitstead attacked over the first notable hill. Her move would prove the catalyst for the race winning break. 

“In our meeting last night, we talked about being quiet up until the Côte de Trieu,” Bates explained. “From there we wanted to get organised and race rather aggressively. Although Emma thought she would have good legs today, and she certainly proved that was the case today, we weren’t necessarily riding for her. We would have been happy with a number of different scenarios.”

“The caravan was put on a deviation through the Paterberg,” Bates continued. “Lizzie had gotten away form the bunch prior to the deviation, and her attack sparked a major reaction. From the sound of it, the race completely exploded over the Paterberg. By the time the caravan caught back up to the race, Emma was one of four riders in the lead. It was quite early but with four strong riders, it was always going to be a difficult group to bring back.”

Amanda Spratt was part of a 20-odd chase group that formed in the wake of the race leaders. The Australian found herself in a rare position of being outnumbered amongst a group in pursuit of her teammate up the road. The chasers proved lively, with various riders attempting to bridge across to the leaders over the climbs and cobbles that followed the Paterberg. While the attempts never produced the desired effect, the group nearly succeeding in catching the leaders before the line. 

“The chase group began to take shape over the Côte de Trieu and really solidified over the Paterberg,” Bates explained. “By the time we caught up to Spratty in the car, several distinct groups had already formed.”

“It was a bit surprising to only have Spratty in that chase group,” Bates admitted. “I thought we would have better numbers in the front at that point in the race. I’m sure the girls will be a little bit disappointed and come out swinging for the next few races.”

Although the chase group was fast-closing in on the leaders, Pieters, Johansson and Armitstead maintained a quick enough clip to stay out front. Six seconds after Pieters posted up for the win, Liesbet de Vocht (Lotto Belisol) took out the bunch sprint for fourth place ahead of Kirsten Wild (Giant-Shimano).

“I consider today a great result for us in the first major race of the season,” said Bates. “I think it’s a really good sign of things to come from the team. It looks like we can expect another big spring from Emma.”