Johansson into fifth overall after stage 2 Ladies Tour of QatarThu 5 Feb 2015
Bonus seconds and fifth place on stage two have moved Swedish champion Emma Johansson back into overall contention at the Ladies Tour of Qatar.
Whilst not to the extent expected pre-race, the second stage produced slight winds and as a result saw the first major splits in racing.
After less than 20km of racing the peloton was in three-pieces with a strong lead group of 16 riders, including four ORICA-AIS – Johansson, Gracie Elvin, Loes Gunnewijk and Valentina Scandolara. Their advantage was two minutes as they entered the large finishing circuit.
Johansson managed to gain three bonus seconds mid-race but a further split in the front group caught ORICA-AIS a little off-guard and she was left alone to fight in the finish.
The 2014 world championship bronze medallist was good enough for fifth on the stage – the day’s work bringing her into fifth overall on general classification.
Sport director Martin Barras provides us his report on stage two action:
I could not even bring myself to open the curtains this morning. I got up, hit the shower, got dressed and got out. It was not even worth checking the weather forecast: from the fifth floor of the Doha Sheraton, you could not hear the smallest hint of a breeze. Nada! Niente! Zero!
In the race preview I dubbed today’s stage between the west coast fort of Al Zubarah and Madinat al Shamal as “carnage in a sandstorm”, but that thought was rapidly disappearing in the languid air.
Ah well! I buried my (our) disappointment in menial activities, including fuelling and washing the car, listening to as many Arabic music stations as I could on the way to the start and scamming my way into the officials’ banquet at the race start. With all that I barely noticed Pat (our mechanic) was missing, as his bus went the wrong way and got lost in the desert.
In the meantime, the girls were busying themselves with pre-race preparation, including a quick warm up on the race route. I was contemplating life without my mechanic when Emma came back.
“I can’t quite figure it out, one second there is no wind, then it’s from the side, then the front, then the back”.
I just shrugged my shoulders. This is the way it goes when an indecisive breeze induces hallucinations in our wayward squad. The carnage would have to wait.
And so we started the 113 km race. I was tabulating the provisions for the journey (one water, two Diet Cokes, a sandwich, a packet of chips and NO OREOS!!!!!) when I noticed that Pat was on the back seat… and that we were going at 55 km/h.
Now, even with a tailwind, one has to ride the said 55km/h and it is not easy going. I started swerving the car across the road to catch a glimpse of what was going on. Miracle! A long broken line was forming, with groups coming out the back and the radio blaring “yellow jersey dropped, silver jersey dropped, white Jersey dropped” Bligh me! The desperados in the bunch seized the faintest opportunity provided and shredded the race apart. The first count came in and out of the 16 riders left at the front; we had for (Valentina Scandolara, Emma Johansson, Loes Gunnewijk and Gracie Elvin). You beauty!!
The gap between the front group and the remains of the bunch grew to two minutes and by then we had entered the circuit that would circle around Madinat al Shamal until the end of the race. In our wildest dreams we had envisioned a race of aggression built around the circuits and were now delivered the opportunity. We tackled the first intermediate sprint at km 72. A bit of concerted work got Emma a one second bonus, which effectively put us back in the racing for GC game. Great!! A quick chat with Loes about things to come and I was speculating on options when BOOM! Coming out of an overpass, with the wind to our side and a cattle gate to cross, Ellen Van Dijk and Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans), threw it in the gutter so quick it sliced the group in two, with Emma, Chloe Hosking and Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle Honda) and Trixi Worrack (Velocio Sram) making the front.
That was easily the “play of the day”. We lost our initiative and Emma only had the option of three returning teammates to gamble on the other escapees. She managed well and got another two-second bonus at the second intermediate sprint (km 99).
The rest was predictable. Van Dijk attacked once after the intermediate sprint, which sapped a bit more life out of her opponents and the cat and mouse game for the sprint between Armitstead, Emma, Worrack and Hosking delivered the final blow in the form of Van Dijk taking a flyer within the last km, to win the stage. Worrack got second and Armitstead third.
Emma now sits fifth on general classification, within ten seconds of a leading Van Dijk but with Boels Dolmans holding the first two spots. This situation will require creative thinking on our part, but, as King David was looked upon benevolently by God for having it in his heart to build an (unfinished) temple, the secret for us will be to have it in ours to complete the job!
And so it is that tomorrow’s forecast is for… lame winds.
I can’t wait!
PHOTO COPYRIGHT: DION KERCKHOFFS/COR VOS