In Her Own Words: Emma Johansson on Ronde van Vlaanderen

Sun 6 Apr 2014

Two times third at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Emma Johansson had her sights set on the top step of the podium – for herself or for her teammates. Her preparation in the week leading up to the big day had all gone according to plan. She had confidence in her ORICA-AIS teammates to carry out the tactics they had developed. Johansson staged in Oudenaarde with eagle-eyed focus and firm resolve, aware of but not ruled by the undercurrent of nervous energy mixed with excitement that pulsed with every heart beat. She was ready.

Her teammates? They were ready, too. Amanda Spratt was on the best form she had ever enjoyed in the spring. Gracie Elvin was hungry to stay with the bunch over the Oude Kwarement and provide vital support to Johansson at the pointy end of the race. Jessie MacLean would do her job early and test herself to make it to the finish. Shara Gillow had shown vast improvements in racing over the technical cobbled terrain and was ready to use her ever-expanding skill set and growing confidence in support of the team’s goal. Loes Gunnewijk would guide them all, calling on the experience she has cultivated over her lengthy career.

Nearly four hours after they stood on the start line, ready for whatever the race would throw at them, Johansson was the third rider to cross the line. Ellen van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans) soloed to victory 1’01 ahead of the chase group of three that Johansson had inspired. Van Dijk’s teammate Lizzie Armitstead enjoyed a free ride in the chase group. Fresher than Johansson, who had dug deep in an effort to bridge across the van Dijk, Armitstead edged out Johansson for second.

Three times third.

Johansson rounded out the podium.

In her own words, Johansson candidly reviews the day. Her disappointment is evident – so is her pride and passion.

It was actually really nervous at the start. There were a lot of crashes. We lost Spratty way too early to a crash with a spectator and learned after the race she had broken her collarbone. I was sitting almost next to her when she went down, so I was very aware of what had happened. I could hear a lot of crashes all day.

We were well organized and well placed up front. We had everything covered. Both Gracie and Shara were in breaks today, which was really good. For the final, I think I did miss Spratty a bit. It was really hard all day.

I had a bike change. After Valkenberg, my gears weren’t working. It wasn’t stressful exactly. It was a good moment that it happened there. Gracie was near me, so I leaned over to her and whisper-yelled: “Gracie, my bike is not working!” I tried letting people know on the radio, but nobody heard me. It was a good moment to change the bike, and I got back really quick.

It was a bit aggressive over the Kanarieberg. Loes came back – Loes came back all day. She would say: “Well I’m done now.” – and boom! She would disappear. I thought it was the end, but she did an awesome job. She kept coming back to the front every time, and she set me up perfectly into the Kanarieberg. That was the last time I saw her.

It was really hard up the Kanarieberg. It was ridden hard the whole day. After that, everything was a bit broken. I was away with a group, but into the cobbled section up the Kruisberg, there were some attacks. I think it was Pauline [Prevot] from Rabobank and Ellen went after that.

When Ellen went, I knew we were in trouble. Because Rabobank had just been racing sort of aggressive, I thought someone would go after her. No one did. I think they were all looking to me.

Ellen is such a strong rider, and she got some seconds quite fast. I had a decision to take. I thought: If I go now, when everyone expects me to go, I’m just going to pull everyone there and I’m killing myself for them. I took the decision that I wouldn’t go there. I was hoping someone else would do the work or that Ellen wouldn’t get such a big gap coming into the Oude Kwaremont. I would give it a real crack there.

When we hit the cobbles, I gave everything I could. I rode all the way up, all the way through, all the way to Paterberg. I was dragging the others. Elisa [Longo Borghini] (Hitec Products) took a half a turn on the normal road before you turn left and start going down to Paterberg. Other than that, it was just me. Of course, Lizzie was sitting on because she had Ellen in front.

We turned right, and I could see Ellen at the steep part on the Paterberg, and I just wished she was going to fall still – but she didn’t. I was digging so deep. It wasn’t enough.

Obviously in the sprint, I knew I was going for third. Ellen was going to win and Lizzie was going to take second, and I was racing Elisa for third. Lizzie was sitting on, so she had a beautiful ride to the finish. The group behind us was starting to come back from behind as well, so Lizzie did take some turns in the end to have us stay away.

It’s nice to ride a podium, but I’ve done that before. We wanted more. I wanted more. I’m happy with the way we rode, but we did miss one rider. It would have been perfect have Spratty there. She is on such good form at the moment, and she has the quick kick we needed.

The most amazing part today was riding through Zingem. I just love that part. It was so beautiful. I got so much cheering, and the decorations were everywhere. I have the best family, friends and fans. That was the best thing today.

I can’t complain. We did what we could. If I could turn back time, I would have gone straight after Ellen when she went – just to know I did that. Of course another situation might have appeared if that’s what I would have done.

I decided to wait. It was the decision I took at that moment, and it felt like the right one. It turned out to be the wrong one, so….

Boels Dolmans is really strong right now. They’re a good combination. You have Ellen, and she’s a powerful rider, and there’s Lizzie with her strong jump. I think Lizzie’s job was to cover me today. She was around me the whole day. She knows that I know the course better than anyone else, and if I jump, she can jump. Ellen is not the same. She doesn’t have that quick response like Lizzie does. They’re complementary to each other.

I was really focused today. I had been racing really well at the front. I had the feeling that we had the race in control. We had good communication. It’s a beautiful race. It’s always a beautiful day, but it would have been nice to have stood on the top step of the podium for once. Maybe next year