Emma Johansson Wins Thüringen Opener

Mon 15 Jul 2013

ORICA-AIS began their campaign for the overall victory at Thüringen Rundfahrt in a winning way as Emma Johansson outsprinted Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) and Ellen van Dijk (Specialized-lululemon) for the stage one victory. Johansson, winner of the German tour in 2011, banked bonus seconds at both intermediate sprints and the finish to pull on the race leader’s yellow jersey in Schleusingen.

“Our strategy today was built around Emma,” said Sport Director Dave McPartland. “We’re here for the overall, and we wanted to start with a bang by putting Emma up for the win. The uphill finish today suited Emma down to the ground.”

“It’s nice to come back and win right away,” said Johansson, who returned to racing in Germany following a three week break. “The team backed me up so well. I’m happy to pull it off for them and for myself, as well. We worked hard together for this.”

The 67km undulating stage was raced aggressively from start to finish. With 3-2-1 bonus seconds available at the intermediate sprints and 10-6-4 bonus seconds available at the finish, ORICA-AIS had far more too focus on than the finale.

Both intermediate sprints were hotly contested with Johansson finishing in second place to Annemiek Van Vleuten (Raobbank Liv Giant) in the first sprint and edging out Van Vleuten on the second sprint. Having taken her first Thüringen overall title by virtue of bonus seconds on the final day of racing, Johansson knows well the importance of securing time wherever she can.

“This tour has been won on bonus seconds more than once,” explained McPartland. “It’s a bloody hard race, and the stages are selective, but with no mountaintop finish, it’s possible to have five or six riders with a realistic shot of winning the overall towards the end of the tour. This can get separated by the time trial a fair bit, but we don’t want to rely on that. Bonus seconds can be the difference between winning and second or third.”

“We did an awesome lead-out coming through the finish for the first time for the intermediate sprint,” added Johansson. “With that kind of lead-out, I was confident we could win the stage.”

Although repeated attacks animated the afternoon, no rider or group gained a substantial advantage until a late race attack from Linda Villumsen (Wiggle Honda). The Danish born Kiwi slowly built up her advantage. As a former Thüringen Rundfahrt overall winner and a strong time trialist, Villumsen’s solo move represented a threat to Johansson’s overall ambitions.

“The main moved today was late in the race when Villumsen went up the road,” McPartland noted. “She gained 35” in the last 10km. Apart from that, the race was very aggressive but nothing significant happened. We made sure that we had someone in every move that went away even if it didn’t look important. Linda’s attack was the only one that put us on the back foot.”

“With Linda up the road, we had to risk using up riders before the lead-out,” Johansson added. “It was better to have the girls pulling Linda back than to save them for the train. I’d rather do the sprint on my own and race for victory than have a train to deliver me to second place.”

Six kilometres from the finish, Johansson sent Loes Gunnewijk to the front of the peloton to chase. Gunnewijk combined forces with Specialized-lululemon to overtake Villumsen ahead of the line. 

“I still had Spratty [Amanda Spratt] with me while Loes was chasing,” recalled Johansson. “I had her stay with me in case something happened. Coming into the final, I was searching for the best wheel. Ellen had a teammate on the front and Lizzie and Annemiek were fighting for the wheel. I tucked in behind those two. It was perfect.”

The technical run-in to the line included two turns in quick succession in the last half-kilometre followed by an uphill drag over bricks. Having previewed the finish at full speed during the intermediate sprint, Johansson knew exactly how she wanted to time her final effort.

“Just before the right-hand corner, one of the girls from the Australian National team jumped,” Johansson explained. “I jumped on her wheel, and she ending up giving me the perfect lead-out. She took me through the right-hand corner and then the left-hand corner at full speed.

“Ellen came around her and opened her sprint after the second corner,” continued Johansson. “I matched my speed to Ellen. I knew I needed to build up to my sprint on the uphill and unleash when we hit the cobbles. I did that exactly and never looked back.”

Johansson will start stage two with a 6” advantage over Van Vleuten and a 9” advantage over Armitstead.  She’s confident her team is capable of defending the yellow jersey over the seven days of racing.

“We have a strong team here,” Johansson said. “Everyone is very motivated. With the win today, we’re even more confident that we can win the overall.”