Johansson maintains fifth overall at Ladies Tour of Qatar

Thu 5 Feb 2015

Swedish champion Emma Johansson has maintained fifth overall at the Ladies Tour of Qatar with ninth place from a bunch sprint on stage three.

After battling head wind for most of the day, a change of direction was enough to split up the peloton with a group of 30 riders, containing all of the general classification contenders, forming off the front.

ORICA-AIS worked hard in the closing kilometres to further reduce the group to improve their chances at a stage victory, but despite gallant efforts by Gracie Elvin and Loes Gunnewijk the group was adamant in a bunch kick. Lizzie Armitstead took the honours.

Throughout the day, Johansson picked up bonus seconds on the second intermediate sprint and now sits 17seconds behind the overall leader in Armitstead.


Sport director Martin Barras provides us his report on stage three action: 

I could not even bring myself to open the curtains this morning. 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!

Sounds familiar? Seems to be the way things start everyday here. Add to that the chase for a decent morning coffee and you get the full picture

Except I did check the weather forecast this morning. And boy, that made up for the sub-par buffet coffee downstairs.

The Shamal ( North West Wind) we were expecting for Friday was now scheduled to show up DURING the stage. Combined with the layout of the 94 km race (72 km in a North North East direction, 2.5 km straight east and 18.5 km south) between The Souq Waqif and Al Khor Corniche, and you suddenly had the making of an intricate race.

I curtailed my excitement and sent a matter of fact email to all our riders (the girls were still sound asleep). Had to contain myself when they got up but ended up mumbling the forecast excitedly a dozen times, which made for some repetition of the message to our riders: I do get excited about stuff like that!

The Souq Waqif  (Standing Market) is a welcome addition to the start locations for the Women’s Tour; I have visited it on a few occasions and always enjoy the claustrophobic alleys , the bustle of the trade, the smell of spices and food. But today, I was all about making sure we were on cue for a great race.

Last night we had discussed the tactical context courtesy of the general classification and the options it presented and elected to focus on a stage result and an aggressive race.

Today, after repeating the forecast another few times (just to make sure), we planned on using the change of directions between km 72 and the finish as our battleground. Once that was discussed, I consulted with a couple of my fellow directors about their intentions and then off we went: Race time!

The wind showed up and changed as predicted. The outcome was a bit deflating at first, as the mostly frontal nature of it dampened attacking and echeloning was on an off/on cycle. Nevertheless, the chronic nature of the echelons and the strain from the intermediate sprints started causing splits and crashes in the chaotic bunch, a sure sign that once the race proper would start, the field would blow to pieces.

And sure enough, as soon as we turned right into the 2.5km crosswind sector at km 72 the race turned into the Big Bang past the point of singularity: An infinitely dense and hot peloton was now expanding in all directions at exponential speed.

The radio started crackling up: “riders dropped, groups splitting, general mayhem, hallelujah”. An initial cluster of 14 riders, including most but not all of the stars was surging ahead at warp speed, whilst the desperate chase group was doing it’s best to hang within a 45seconds time lapse. Beyond that was the cold outreaches of the Ladies Tour of Qatar universe: you hear about it but what happens there will never be seen again (well not until the finish line).

We had two riders in the front group (Emma and Gracie) and whilst this was not optimal, our plan was to seize the initiative. As Emma would feel the pull of her GC gravity, it fell to Gracie to get this done. At 13km to go a group of five particles accelerated and Gracie was driving it. It was caught after a violent chase but was immediately replaced by another burst of 4, again with Gracie in it.

This group had more legs and whilst it never got past 10seconds advantage, it stretched the chase. They were caught at 9km to go and the broken pace allowed for the two front groups to collide and merge into a critical mass of 32 riders with 2 more of us (Loes and Valentina Scandolara) to play with. Loes did not wait for any invite and just surged ahead, to be caught shortly after. By now we had reached 7km to go and another group of four went ahead, again with Gracie in it. As critical mass would have it, the chase was now becoming very finely balanced and whilst the break was quickly reeled, you could sense the energy fading on all parts.

Sure enough, another group erupted like a light beam from the bunch. With our horizon set just inside 5km to go, it would be critical. Both Gracie and Loes made it and immediately got a five seconds gap. This would be the final frontier for us, a battle between light trying to escape the pull of the collapsing black hole the front group was becoming. It hung in the balance for a couple of kilometres, long enough for Pat and I to theorize about the expansion of our universe (it’s a theory that involves my gut and his beard !) but ultimately, gravity won, the break was sucked back in and our world filled with dark matter (and very sore legs).

The stage ended in a group sprint and Lizzie Armitstead won, exchanging position with team mate Ellen Van Dijk for the lead of the Tour. It was a good outcome for their team, as they have stretched their lead to 9 seconds on Chloe Hosking (Wiggle Honda) in third place.

For us it was a good day at the office. We played all our cards and can be satisfied with that. In the fresh Qatari desert night we will allow for our universe to cool down and reform, so we can start with another hot ball of cycling matter to blow tomorrow.

Until then.