ORICA-AIS on Constant Attack on Ladies Tour of Qatar Stage ThreeThu 6 Feb 2014
Emma Johansson sprinted to fifth place on stage three of the Ladies Tour of Qatar. She finished on the same time as stage winner Kirsten Wild (Giant Shimano) who regained the race lead from teammate Amy Pieters (Giant Shimano) after securing 16” bonus seconds at the two intermediate sprints and on the finish line. Johansson retained her hold on fourth overall, now 35” outside the race lead and 14” off the overall podium.
Johansson was one of four ORICA-AIS riders to make the final selection of 12 riders that would go on to contest the finish on the Al Khor Corniche. Gracie Elvin, Loes Gunnewijk and Melissa Hoskins joined Johansson amongst the leading group, and the quartet attacked their way to the line. Gunnewijk went on to round out the stage top ten while Hoskins defended her sixth place overall.
“Our plan today was to make the racing as hard as we could by putting the race into the gutter,” said Sport Director Gene Bates. “We wanted to get rid of as many of the other riders as possible. After we reduced the size of the group, we hoped we’d have the numbers to start sending girls up the road to isolate Wild and Pieters. I think we did a really good job with that. The girls can be super proud of their efforts.”
The 99 kilometre day began with a fierce headwind. ORICA-AIS patiently awaited for the proper conditions in which to launch the attacks they hoped would split the field.
“It was predominantly a headwind to start, which made the racing pretty negative at the beginning,” said Bates. “There were a couple small attacks that were neutralised until we hit the crosswinds. That’s when the girls attacked and put the race into the gutter. They really set things up for the split.”
Thirty riders broke away from the bunch. ORICA-AIS managed to place all six riders in the front group. When the road swung around again, the wind direction changed and the first two groups merged, creating a 50 rider bunch.
Aude Biannic (French National Team) slipped away from reduced peloton and built up a 40” advantage. As the finish approached and the attacks began to come from the group behind, Biannic was naturally overtaken.
As ORICA-AIS, Specialized-lululemon and Giant Shimano combined forces to set a fierce tempo, the pace shed riders from the group. Inside the final 20 kilometres, the size of the group had been reduced by half. Attacks caused further splits.
“We knew if it came down to a kick, we were going to get beaten,” said Bates. “The girls had to try to attack. They threw absolutely everything at it. They attacked over and over and over again.”
An acceleration by Loes Gunnewijk and Emma Johansson created one last separation. Twelve riders, including most of the overall contenders, had made the final cut. ORICA-AIS had the best representation with four riders amongst the 12 rider group.
The ORICA-AIS quartet shared the work and the opportunities, with each rider launching multiple attacks on the run-in towards the line. Elvin gained a small gap with Trixi Worrack (Specialized-lululemon) and Chloe Hosking (Hitec Products) for company. When Elvin was reeled back in, she went again – this time with Worrack and Shelley Olds (Ale Cipollini).
An attack by Johansson was marked by Wild. Pieters covered Gunnewijk’s attempt to escape. Elvin went off the front with Pieters and Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans). Johansson put in one final dig, and Wild dragged the bunch up to her. Inside the final kilometre, Hoskins gained a small solo advantage twice. Both times Wild was able to respond. So, it continued – all the way to the line – until Wild won the stage ahead of Armitstead and Hosking.
“I think it was a common feeling amongst everyone that we weren’t working as well as we possibly could have during the first two days,” explained Bates. “But when everyone got off the bike today, they all said – ‘Yeah, that was a really good team effort.’ I’m really pleased with that. We were just beaten by a better bike rider in Wild today.”
“We can be happy and hold our heads up high because we raced a good race,” Bates continued. “We can feel really confident now going into the next races – especially in the spring. We know we have a super strong team that works really well together. I don’t know that any other teams can say that as confidently about their entire team at the moment.”
One final stage remains in the Ladies Tour of Qatar. While Johansson’s chances of securing a spot on the overall podium seem slim, the Australian outfit is determined to fit until the end.
“We’ll sit down and have a look at the stage,” said Bates. “The way it’s looking, it should be a strong headwind for the majority of race, which doesn’t lend itself to an attacking style of race unfortunately. We might try something in the final with Emma or set up Mel for a good result in the finish. We’re leading the team classification, too. We won it last year, and we’d like to do it again.”