Emma Johansson Retains Route de France Lead After Stage TwoMon 5 Aug 2013
Emma Johansson powered to fifth place on the uphill stage two finish to retain the orange leader’s jersey after three days of Route de France racing. The Swede survived a hectic day in the reduced bunch with strong support from her ORICA-AIS teammates. Tiffany Cromwell finished alongside Johansson and remains in tenth overall.
“It was a busy day,” said Johansson. “We thought it would be a bit easier. We were a outnumbered again in the finish because we had to use a lot of the team to chase back a late break. That made it hard for us. In another way, I like it when we have to battle and really get to race our bikes. I like being tired at the finish. It’s a good feeling.”
Although the second stage of the Route de France was the shortest, it provided constant challenges. The opening part of the stage featured narrow roads, small towns with an abundance of road furniture and technical corners.
“The profile was not accurate,” noted Johansson. “I was expecting a bit more flat and open roads. After the neutral section, we rode through small towns with lots of obstacles, so it was stress from the very beginning.”
Melissa Hoskins and Johansson covered the early attacks until their teammates found their way to the front and relived them from this duty. With Johansson in the leader’s jersey and Hoskins hoping to have a crack at the projected sprint finish, the duo were meant to save their legs throughout the stage.
“Mel and Emma had to cover the first moves as the rest us weren’t quite at the front yet,” explained Elvin. “From there, it was up to Nettie [Edmondson], Gu and I to cover the rest of the attacks as the race unfolded. It was more technical today than yesterday, so it was important to be at the front to stay out of trouble. Riding anything further back than tenth wheel was very scary with all the speed humps, traffic islands, roundabouts, drain covers, cracks and holes to navigate.”
Around the mid-point of the race, Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana) escaped the bunch in a solo move. The peloton looked to ORICA-AIS to react.
“We did a few attacks to bring back Scandolara,” said Johansson. “It didn’t take too long to return her to the bunch. The increase in speed made the other girls suffer.”
Alexandra Burchenkova (RusVelo) countered the catch, and quickly put daylight between herself and the field. Within only a handful of kilometres, her lead hovered around the minute mark. Johansson sent her teammates to the front to organise the chase.
“Nettie, Gracie and Gu did the chase work, but the Russian continued to gain time,” Johansson said. “It went out to 1’40 maximum. They had to ride even harder. Luckily, a few riders from Wiggle Honda started to work. They wanted things to come back together for their sprinter.”
The concerted effort from the two teams had reduced the gap to 55” with 10km left to race. As the peloton hit the lower slopes of the last and most significant hill of the stage, Team USA launched repeated attacks.
“It was quite a lot like yesterday,” explained Johansson. “The bunch split. A group of maybe 20 riders formed off the front. Tiff and I were the group. We were outnumbered again, and it was hard to cover all the attacks that came between just the two of us.”
“Nettie and I were spent from our hard work at the front and drifted back fast when the climbers upped the pace,” Elvin added. “I settled in to make it over with a big group. I hoped that this would allow me to recover if the race came back together for a big bunch sprint. Unfortunately, the big bunch broke up even further, and I found myself with Mel on the tail of the second group over the top of the final climb. It was day over for us at that point.”
Having dug deep to cover the repeated attacks in the run-in towards the finish, Johansson and Cromwell were short on extra energy with the finish line looming. Despite the tired legs, Johansson gave the sprint her best shot.
“The last corner was a sketchy one,” said Johansson. “There was a road divider that split the group before the corner. Some went on the left of the road. Some went on the right. I went on the right, and I had to take the inside line. The girl in front of me hit her brakes, so I had to brake a little, too. I nearly died trying to get up to speed again, but I managed fifth in the end.”
Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle Honda) made it back-to-back stage wins beating Ashleigh Moolman (Lotto Belisol) and Thalita de Jong (Rabobank-Liv Giant) to the line. Without time bonuses or time gaps at the finish, Johansson’s fifth place was enough to keep her in the race lead by 1” over Linda Villumsen (Wiggle Honda).
“It’s a relief,” said Johansson. “It would be nice to have a crack at a stage with the sprinters we have here and see what we can do with our train, but it’s hard for them when we’re racing so aggressively. We need to cover anything important that goes down the road. If we let someone go down the road, we’re not sprinting for the victory anyway, and we’re not interested in that.”