Off Day in the Office for ORICA-AIS at Flèche Wallone

Wed 23 Apr 2014

Emma Johansson finished just outside the top ten at Flèche Wallone on Wednesday. The team leader for ORICA-AIS on the fourth round of World Cup racing slotted into 11th place following an uncharacteristically self-described “off day” in the office. Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Rabo-Liv) took the biggest win of her young career to beat out World Cup leader Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) to the line. Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec Products) rounded out the podium.

“I really wanted to do my best,” said Johansson. “I did do my best, but 11th was all I could get. I could feel that I couldn’t get the lactic out of my legs between the climbs. It wasn’t my normal legs that were with me. It’s always difficult to know if you feel bad because the race is really hard that day or maybe everyone else is suffering or maybe I’m the one suffering a bit more. Today I wasn’t better. That’s just how it is sometimes.”

Within the first hour of racing, less than half the peloton remained in contention for a promising result. While the men’s version of Flèche Wallone started off gently on wide, open roads, the women’s course was unforgiving from the start, a constant roller coaster of hills for the peloton to navigate up and down and back up again. By the third of 11 climbs, Rabo Liv had attacked the peloton to pieces. Johansson was joined by Shara Gillow, Carlee Taylor and Valentina Scandolara in the front group.

“The plan today was to put all of our support behind Emma,” said Sport Director Gene Bates. “She was our best shot today. We gave everyone really specific jobs to do.”

“Nettie [Edmondson] joined us as a replacement for Amanda Spratt, who is out with a broken collarbone,” Bates explained. “As a sprinter, this obviously isn’t the sort of course that favors Nettie, but we were happy to have her. She was really good in the first part of the circuit where her job was to cover any early moves that eventuated and position her teammates before the climbs.”

“Rabo made the race super tough when we went into the third climb,” Bates added. “We lost Loes when the field split there. Nettie was already gone by that point. When we hit the Mur de Huy for the first time, only 40-50 riders remained in the bunch. We still had four, and we were confident that we could support Emma in the final lap.”

The first ascent of the Mur de Huy, marking the start of the second lap, further split the field. Scandolara lost contact with the front group. Taylor was part of a group of ten riders that dangled less than a minute behind the frontrunners. Her chase group would eventually regain contact with the leaders.

“The first lap was the hardest one today,” said Johansson. “The second lap was actually a bit easier until the very end. We didn’t have the same numbers of some of the other teams, so I couldn’t play the game in the same way that they could. I think that was the biggest difference.”

“When Valentina got dropped, that only left three in the front,” Bates added. “Things started to get a bit dicey at that stage as Rabo still had six and Boels were also really well-represented. We were lucky that neither of those teams launched a massive round of attacks. If they had, they could have isolated Emma and a couple others quite effectively. Luckily, they didn’t, and we managed to get through the next 20-30 kilometres relatively unscathed.”

“The girls had to work really hard to hold their position,” noted Bates. “They tried to give Emma as much help as they could, and they got her to the bottom of the Mur as fresh as she possibly could be given the situation.”

In the run-in towards the finish, Shara Gillow slipped off the front of the reduced bunch. A group of eight took shape just inside the final ten kilometres. Lotto Belisol and Hitec Products had missed out, and they were quick to respond.

“There were a lot of attacks over the top of the second to last climb,” explained Johansson. “Emma Pooley and Hitec weren’t there, and they were the ones to bring it back together. When we got back up to the Shaz and the rest of them, Linda [Villumsen] (Wiggle Honda) was away alone.”

Villumsen hit the Mur de Huy with a 45” advantage. The difficulty of the ascent to the finish naturally facilitated Villumsen’s catch. It was every rider for herself en route to the line as each reached into every last reserve to make it to the finish first. Ferrand Prevot proved strongest on the day, crossing the line one second ahead of Armitstead. Johansson finished 30” behind the race winner.

“I didn’t have the legs today,” Johansson said. “Eleventh place was all I could muster. I got a bit locked in on the Mur, but that doesn’t change anything. If I wasn’t there, maybe I could have been one or two more places up but nothing more.”

“The team put 110 percent into doing everything they could for Emma today,” Bates said. “It was an off day for Emma and maybe a lot of the team as well. Everyone did the job they were asked to do to the best of their ability. I understand they might be disappointed, but I’m not.”

“It’s one race,” said Bates. “It’s one day in a very long season. Less than a week ago, the team rode fantastically together and came up with an excellent result from Mel Hoskins. It won’t take much for them to bounce back from this. They all realise that there are plenty of other days to get back on the podium.”