Emma Johansson Wins Boels Rental Hills Classic

Fri 30 May 2014

Emma Johansson won a game of strength and smarts to win the Boels Rental Hills Classic in Holland from a three-up sprint. The podium emerged from a six rider breakaway that formed at the mid-point of the one day race. It is Johansson’s fifth win of the 2014 season and the seventh victory for ORICA-AIS.

“I felt really good today,” said Johansson. “I think my ride was quite smart as well. Today was the best course for me of the three this weekend, and I’m really happy I could win.”

Gracie Elvin proved the early animator. The Australian National Road Champion slipped away from the peloton in the opening kilometres of the hilly course. She intentionally kept the advantage between herself and the bunch to a minimum in an effort to entice bridge attempts.

“We were keen for an early breakaway that included one of our riders – for all the obvious reasons,” said Sport Director Martin Barras. “We wanted to relieve our team from doing work until the finish, and we wanted to make good use of the bike riders that are not quite as suited to this course. Hence the attack put in by Gracie.”

“We would have preferred her to have been joined by a few others but the reaction from the bunch was a little late,” Barras added. “She was aware of this, so she sat off the front with around 40” to see if anyone was going to get across to her.”

Although several riders attempted to make their way to Elvin’s wheel, none of the efforts proved successful. The final bridge attempt saw Elvin return to the bunch as the peloton reacted to the lone chaser.

“Although Gracie’s move did not accomplish everything we hoped, it enabled her to get through the first big obstacles of the day of the Eyersbosweg and Kruishoeveweg,” noted Barras. “She made that selection and rode in the front group from there.”

Johansson’s escape group took shape shortly after Elvin’s catch. The six strong breakaway included Roxane Knetemann (Rabobank-Liv), Sabrina Stultiens (Rabobank-Liv), Ellen van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans), Katarzyna Pawlowska (Boels-Dolmans) and Amy Pieters (Giant Shimano). It didn’t take long for the leaders to have a two minute advantage over the bunch.

“It caught us a bit by surprise that the successful break went just before mid-race, but we were happy enough with the composition of the group,” said Barras. “With Amy Pieters in there, Emma had a natural ally since Dolmans had two riders and Rabobank had two riders. This made things a bit easier for us.”

“I wasn’t comfortable in that break in the beginning,” admitted Johansson, who had a slightly different take on the make up of the group. “I was hoping a few riders would jump across and maybe Spratty [Amanda Spratt] would come up to me.”

“When we already had two minutes after ten kilometres, that’s when I knew this was the break going to the finish,” said Johansson. “I had to contribute more at that point so that everybody would ride.”

Twenty kilometres from the finish, Johansson’s group had stretched their lead behind the three minute mark. It was game on in the breakaway when Ellen van Dijk threw the first missive.

“Ellen started the moves with a good attack,” Johansson explained. “I had no problem following her. Sabrina and Katarzyna were dropped. This was perfect for me. Instead of two riders from two teams, none of the four riders left had teammates.”

Knetemann was the next to jump, handily gaining several seconds on her chasers. Johansson saw no threat in the move. She was confident Knetemann could not hang onto her advantage up the Cauberg.

“When Roxanne went away alone, Ellen, Amy and I agreed to ride together all the way into the Cauberg and keep Roxanne at a good distance,” Johansson explained. “We caught Roxanne at the bottom of the Cauberg. I attacked near the top, but Amy was glued to my wheel. I didn’t get much space. I think Ellen had to dig deep to stay with us, and Roxanne couldn’t respond.”

Although Knetemann fought her way back to the leading trio, she was dropped when Johansson made one final attempt to solo to the line. The Swede attacked just beyond the four kilometre mark.

“They brought me back before the descent with a little more than two kilometres,” added Johansson. “Amy was sitting on Ellen’s wheel, and Ellen had to work hard to get to me.”

Johansson mentally prepared for the three-up sprint. The race featured a new finish compared to previous editions, and Johansson wasn’t entirely sure what to expect on the uphill drag to the line.

“I had to look at the metres and the signs but it was still a little bit of guesswork,” said Johansson. “I saw the last corner at the 350 metres sign, and I thought if I was the first one of the corner, I would win.”

“I was the last into the corner, but I took the inside line,” Johansson continued. “Ellen had to come around Amy on the outside. I had a good gap coming out of the corner, and I held onto it to the line. I had stand up, sit down and stand up again. There was lactate coming out of my eyeballs, but I did it.”

“Emma looked like a million bucks up that last climb,” said Barras. “I could tell she had enough left in the tank to pull off the sprint. The best bike rider won the race today.”