Top Ten for Emma Johansson in Ronde van Drenthe

Sat 15 Mar 2014

Emma Johansson was the top finisher for ORICA-AIS on the opening round of the World Cup series. The Swede was part of a chase group of seven riders sprinting for third place behind Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) and Anna van der Breggen (Giant Liv). Armitstead won the two-up sprint to claim her first World Cup victory while Shelley Olds (Alé Cipollini) led the chase group home to round out the podium. Johansson slotted into eighth place.

“Emma said she was on the back foot all day,” reported Sport Director Gene Bates. “It was very unlike her. She kept missing moves and had to do a lot of work to keep herself in contention. By the time the chasers hit the VAM-berg for the final time, she was completely spent. Emma had used all her energy to stay on equal terms all day, so she nothing left for the finish.”

With a slightly modified race course compared to previous editions, Ronde van Drenthe covered 146.6 kilometres, including three cobble sections and three ascents of the infamous VAM-berg, a man-made hill of rubbish. ORICA-AIS hoped to survive the cobbles with numbers and race aggressively in the build-up to the second ascent of the VAM-berg. The best laid plans went sideways as the race unfolded, and only Johansson could claim anything remotely resembling good position when attacks split the field.

“We had good numbers after the cobble section,” said Bates. “It was really just Valentina [Scandolara] who had fallen off the pace at the point. We had everyone else up there, and everyone was looking good. In our team meeting, we had talked about getting past the cobbles with numbers, which we did – and then we wanted to use those numbers to force a selection that included a number of our riders. That’s where we fell short.”

“We missed the moves when things came to blow,” Bates admitted. “We weren’t strong enough today. A couple of teams took advantage of the crosswinds on a section of road between the cobble sectors and the VAM-berg. We were caught out. None of our riders were in the first group of around ten, Emma and Loes [Gunnewijk]  were in the next group.”

Eventually the first two groups on the road merged with Gunnewijk and Johansson joining the leaders. A poorly-timed puncture took Gunnewijk from the first group to the last group, leaving Johansson isolated at the front.

“The race had split to absolute pieces about ten kilometres after the last major cobble sector,” said Bates. “We had Loes and Emma in the front group, and we were heading towards the VAM-berg for the second time. That’s when we heard Loes on the radio saying: ‘I need a bike change. I need a bike change.’ She pulled over at the foot of the VAM-berg and two neutral cars went straight past her, which was really disappointing.”

“Loes had to wait until we made our way up to her,” Bates added. “We were behind several small groups, and we were unable to get there very quickly. The puncture effectively put her out of the race. It would have been nice to have had someone support Emma in that front group. We were really disappointed to lose Loes that way.”

Following the second time up the VAM-berg, a 15 rider lead group took shape. Johansson had made the elite selection but missed out as Rabo-Liv teammates Iris Slappendal and Anna van der Breggen slipped up the road. The duo had a 20” advantage when the chasers made a wrong turn.

“The two Rabo riders were sent in the right direction, and the chase was sent the wrong way,” Bates confirmed. “By the time we got the next time check, Emma’s group was at 1’25. It didn’t matter in the end as Lizzie came from that chase group to win, but it was just another one of those things on one of those days.”

Despite the detour, the chase group managed to close in on the two leaders on the final ascent of the VAM-berg. As Slappendel fell off van der Breggen’s pace, Armitstead jumped out of the chase group. The chase group reabsorbed Slappendel. Armitstead made contact with van der Breggen. Inside the final ten kilometres, the leading duo stretched out their advantage.

Armitstead was first to open the sprint and first to cross the finish line. Twenty nine seconds later Olds won the field sprint for third place. Johansson finished two seconds further back at 31” in eighth place.

“We’ll talk tonight as a team to discuss the good things and not so good things we did today as a team,” said Bates. “We’ll learn from our mistakes, and then we move on straightaway. There’s no need to linger in negativity. We race again tomorrow, so we’ll rally, keep our chins up and go for a better result on another day.”