In His Own Words: DS Martin Barras on Aalburg and Gooik

Sat 31 May 2014

We came out of Friday's race buoyed and buzzing. Emma Johansson had won the Boels Rental Hills Classic. It was not just the result, but the feeling building within the team that was notable. Everyone was talking about aggressive racing and how much we have enjoyed this over the years.

Saturday's race was held in Wijk en Aalburg, the hometown of Marianne Vos (Rabobank-Liv). It was a 121 kilometre pancake flat affairs around the area. Loes Gunnewijk had been salivating about it already for a few days and had already asked for her "licence to kill” for that day.

It started well enough as we woke up to a glorious sunny and blue sky day but we immediately noticed something was not quite right : there was NO wind! And in North Brabant , you might as well ask for the sun not to come up : it never happens.

Not that we took notice. After discussion, we thought that there was no point adapting our racing to a potential bunch sprint and wait for it. Everyone was keen on breaking the Vos Bank and have some fun doing it as well.

So we all pitched in. Hell, even Carlee Taylor was seen coming off the front of the bunch and if you know the girl, you will also know how far out of her element she was!

The girls were great and really aggressive, and in the end, Emma got third in the unavoidable bunch sprint. Vos won, which more than satisfied the eager locals.Yet the buzz on our girls lips after the race was : "Loes was on fire!".

That was music to my ears. Loes has not had the start to the season she wanted and after struggling with health, form and luck for a few weeks, she was making a valiant effort in positive thinking to pull herself back in the game, and it was starting to pay off, as the form in her legs and the smile on her face seemed to indicate.

So on Sunday morning, as we prepared for the last race of the week end, the 138 kilometre Gooik- Gerardsbergen-Gooik classic, we were all eager to race aggressively. The course presented as a Flemish sandwich of flat and rolling concrete roads for the first third, leading to a meaty middle of bergs and cobbles and topped off with a finishing layer of rolling hills all the way to the final sprint.

Knowing the selection would be made swiftly on the "Muur of Gerardsbergen " (the first and hardest of the four bergs on offer), we were keen to increase our numbers by having an early break getting to the hills with a good advantage.

Enters Loes, who had already put her hand up for the job! After kilometre 25, she went out solo and by kilometre 45 she was already cruising at three minutes in front of everyone. This sent Hitec and Rabobank to the front of the bunch in order to control the gap. When we got the team car to Loes at kilometre 50  to feed her and pass on race info), I tried to remind her of the objective of the break, only to be met by the biggest grin and "I am OK!".

THAT grin!

As predicted, the selection was made on the Muur and Marianne Vos (Rabobank-Liv), Elisa Longo Borgini (Hitec Products) and Ashleigh Moolman (Hitec Products) and our own Emma Johansson got away in chase of Loes. This allowed Emma to sit on in the chase and gave us the numbers we so desired at the front, a position that was improved by Loes stubborn refusal to get caught without a fair bit of a chase.

The catch eventually happened as the front group was at the bottom of the fourth and final berg (98 kilometre). By then Loes had been away solo for over 70 kilometre and was dropped on the climb. We all thought "Great job" and turned our attention to Emma, only to hear within a couple of minutes Loes was back in the break and taking turns.

Our incredulity increased as the now organised chase in the bunch brought the gap to the break back to 1’30 with 30 kilometre to go from the 3’30  it was ten kilometres earlier. Incredulous because this meant that instead of sitting on the break for a well earned rest, Loes was now riding hard with Emma to maintain her teammate's chance of winning the race from her position.

The break played with the bunch for the next 20 kilometres, yo-yoing the gap between 20” and just over one minute until the front girls got to work racing for the win. Emma's initial attack drew Vos and Longo Borgini with her whilst Loes crucified herself to first drop Moolman, then get back to the front three and immediately attacked with two kilometres to go, which turned into the final lead out for the sprint. Vos won from Emma, but not without having to dodge the sink, fridge and furniture we threw at her. Emma won the combined points classification for the three races we just completed, and Loes won the Queen of the Mountain award.

When I finally saw the girls after the race, I gently chastised Loes as I thought her race was not perfect :

Me: "Hey! You could have been off the front for the first 25 km of the race as well!"
Here: " I know. I thought about it!!!"


Happy days!