Emma Johansson Podiums at Flanders World Cup

Mon 1 Apr 2013

Emma Johansson continued her European podium streak to finish third in a four-up sprint at the Ronde van Vlaanderen World Cup. The Swede with strong form has now ridden herself onto the podium in each of the eight European races she has started. Loes Gunnewijk gave ORICA-AIS a second rider in the top ten when she slotted into eighth place, part of a chase group of five riders that had formed behind Johansson’s group.

“Obviously, I’m happy that I’m going well, but we race to win,” said Johansson, following the podium presentation. “It’s good to be third, but I would change all those other results and my podium streak to win the Flanders World Cup.” 

The team planned to race aggressively in their bid for the ultimate prize. Their early intentions were derailed by a crash during the first hour of racing.

“Basically, our plan was to sit tight and stay quiet heading into the Molenberg, at which point we had to be at the front,” said Sport Director Dave McPartland. “We wanted the whole team at the head of the peloton before the Molenberg so we could start attacking after the Molenberg.”

“Our biggest strength is that we have an entire team at a really high level of fitness at the moment,” added McPartland. “Other teams have two or three really strong riders and then a big drop in terms of fitness to their next rider. Our objective was to isolate the strong riders on each of these teams and make them work.”

With the Molenberg looming, there was a crash in the peloton.

“Jessie MacLean was caught up in what turned out to be a pretty nasty crash,” noted McPartland. “She banged her head pretty hard, and it was race over for her. Doctors have looked at her, and she’s okay. It was a big loss to the team at a critical point in the race. Jessie was meant to lead the team up to the foot of the Molenberg. The confusion after the crash put us on the back foot.”

Several small crashes followed the crash that took MacLean out of the race. Although ORICA-AIS managed to avoid the subsequent crashes, they hit the Molenberg out of position.

“The race split on the Molenberg,” explained McPartland. “I saw a few of our jerseys in the middle of that second group. I thought ‘Well, there goes our race.’ but somehow, miraculously, the girls turned it around. By the time we had come out of the Paddestraat, we had all five riders in the top 20 or 30 places. It was a good save, but we were back at square one.”

Following the Paddestraat, each of the ORICA-AIS riders took turns launching attacks. They raced aggressively over the Rekelberg and Berendries. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to force a split in the bunch.

“We were marked heavily and had trouble getting anything down the road,” explained McPartland. “Everyone was intent on making the move, and any gaps that opened were quickly filled, keeping the whole bunch together. It made for a stressful race – and not super fast. Between each of the difficulties, the race slowed substantially. We were approaching the finish and realizing that nothing about our plan had worked.”

“I had repeatedly directed the girls to attack and saw them following my direction,” he added. “Eventually I realised that the girls, Loes in particular, were managing the situation the best that they could. By the time the race hit the Kruisberg, I decided I needed to leave them be. I could direct them to attack until I was blue in the face but nothing was happening.”

Between the Kruisberg and Oude Kwaremont, Amanda Spratt and Lucinda Brand (Rabo Women) broke away from the bunch. They never gained more than a handful of seconds and were brought back before what is typically the most critical part of the race.

“It was gruppo compatto when we hit the Oude Kwaremont,” said McPartland. “Over the top of the climb Emma went away with [Marianne] Vos (Rabo Women) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec Products UCK). It was a pretty promising move. Of course, going against Vos is always a struggle, but it’s the next best scenario to being up the road without her.”

Before the trio had a chance to solidify their lead, Ellen Van Dijk (Specialized-lululemon) bridged across.

“Marianne led the group up the front of the Oude Kwaremont,” explained Johansson. “My plan had been to wait until we came up to the square that more or less marks the top of the climb. Vos was pulling hard, but I still felt okay. She didn’t know that she was helping me get to the point where I wanted to attack. Once we hit the right moment, I sped things up again. I was the one who caused the split once we hit the flat square. The three of us were together with Ellen chasing behind. She caught us just on the top where we start to go down the road to the Paterberg.”

Behind the four race leaders, a chase group of five riders began to take shape. Gunnewijk had made the selection and sat on with Annemiek Van Vleuten (Rabo Women) as Adrie Visser and Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) and Anna Van der Breggen (Sengers) gave chase. Ahead, Johansson tried to split her group of four on the Paterberg.

“It’s always difficult to be in a group with Marianne,” admitted Johansson. “I didn’t want to bring her to the line. I attacked on the Paterberg, and I hoped Ellen and Elisa would attack as well. The only way we had a chance against Marianne was if the three of us worked together. Elisa and Ellen were very tame at this point. I was the only one to attack, and Marianne could bring me back.” 

“We were hoping Ellen and Elisa would counter Emma’s moves,” added McPartland. “Unfortunately, they didn’t really join in. If they had, it would have risked Emma’s chances, but it was our only hope of getting rid of Vos. Emma took several cracks at getting away, but Vos covered everything.”

Four kilometres from the finish, Johansson sat on to save her energy for the sprint. Longo Borghini and Van Dijk had saved their attempts for the run in towards the finish. Johansson left Vos to cover their breakmates.

“Elisa and Ellen had some good attacks closer to the finish, but Marianne covered them all,” said Johansson. “We came to the finish with her and no one could beat her in the sprint.”

Vos handily won the four-up sprint with Van Dijk edging out Johansson for second. More than two minutes later, Gunnewijk’s group of five came across the line with Gunnewijk taking fourth in the chase for eighth in the race.

“We did what we could,” said Johansson. “I was feeling very good on the Kwaremont because I hadn’t done much work in the race up until the point. I was really strong on the hills all day. I wish I could have done more, but there’s only so much you can do with Marianne.”

“Emma did bloody brilliant,” countered McPartland. “She did an awesome job on the biggest one day race of the year. She did everything she could in the final, and she represented the team on the podium again. I know Emma, so I knew even before I spoke to her that she would be disappointed. She has no reason to be. I’m proud of her and the whole team at large for their performance today.”