Emma Johansson Sprints to Second on Women's Tour Stage ThreeFri 9 May 2014
Following the most aggressive day of racing yet at the Friends Life Women’s Tour, ORICA-AIS’ Emma Johansson sprinted to second in Clacton-on-Sea. Marianne Vos (Rabobank-Liv) took out the third stage in front of an enthusiastic crowd to move into the race lead by virtue of bonus seconds earned on the finish line and both intermediate sprints. Johansson earned bonus seconds as well, enough to see her leapfrog up to second overall, 8” behind the new race leader.
“The sprint game is working for us in terms of solidifying our place on the podium, but it’s pretty clear that it’s not working for us in terms of the win,” said Sport Director Martin Barras. “I’m confident that we have the situation under control. People might look at the results on paper and think we’re on the back foot because we’re now in a position were have to chase the win, but I tend to think we still have quite a bit of leverage.”
“I’m far from discounting our options,” Barras added. “I think we’re going to have be creative in terms of the way we race and use all of our riders. We still have two days of racing left, and I fully intend that we leave here without second guessing if we could or couldn’t. We’re going to fully explore our options and find out for ourselves.”
The third stage of racing has been earmarked as the most likely day of the British tour to sort out the overall contenders. The excitement in the air was palpable as teams prepared for the stage start in the seaside town of Felixstowe. Whilst the day was overcast as campers and caravans filled the team parking area, the sun had shown itself by the time the stage began.
“It was another awesome start,” said Elvin. “The start town was very picturesque with the sea and all sorts of cute shops and the awesome crowds, which do such a great job of pumping us up."
“Even the neutral section was hectic today,” said Elvin. “I think there was a crash or two during the seven kilometre roll-out. The whole field knew that within the first few kilometres it was going to go into the gutter, and they were right. It was pretty much single file the entire race, which was exactly what we hoped would happen today.”
Forced to be conservative during the first two opening stages, the Australian outfit was excited to animate the action on stage three. Given the directive to race more aggressively, the riders were more than happy to oblige.
“We had managed to keep Gracie and Loes [Gunnewijk] as fresh as possible over the course of the first two stages,” Barras noted. “This was intentional to give us more cards to play on a day like today. The idea was to get something up the road – particularly with Loes or Gracie – and put other teams on the defensive. Where other teams might be playing a one-punch approach with just one leader going for results, we have a broader palate and wanted to explore our options today.”
The high speed in the peloton from kilometre zero put several riders in difficulty from the outset. The race caravan dodged those that had fallen behind en route to the first intermediate sprint where Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) banked three bonus seconds ahead of Vos and Johansson, who took two bonus seconds and one bonus second respectively. The real aggression began just before kilometre 40 past the two Strava QOM points that came in quick succession.
“Loes Gunnewijk and I had the same job today,” explained Elvin. “We were to save energy in the first half of the race but make sure we were always in the front and following good wheels if things got really aggressive earlier than we anticipated.”
“Coming into the second half of the race, we wanted to either put the race in the gutter as a team if we found the opportunity to do that or get into breakaways,” Elvin continued. “We both had a really good crack at that. Loes was in a couple breakaways, and I rode in one move that stayed away for five kilometres.”
“There were several teams like Specialized and Rabobank, to a lessor extent, that were willing to work in breaks today,” Elvin added. “Ultimately, Boels-Dolmans wanted the sprint finale and Wiggle Honda did as well, so while we did really well to get into a lot of moves, most of them were short-lived. The pace was so high the entire race.”
A reduced but compact bunch reached the second intermediate sprint. The bonus seconds once again incentivized the overall contenders into action. This time Vos edged out Armitstead to the three seconds. Johansson was third across the sprint line for the final second on offer. In their acceleration to the line, the trio had created a bit of distance between themselves and the peloton. Johansson decided to take advantage of the opportunity on offer.
“Emma made this really awesome move after the second sprint,” said Elvin. “She had slipped of the front with Marianne and Lizzie, and then she attacked them just as they were coming back to the bunch. You should have seen the red flags that went up all over the place. People were so nervous and afraid of letting her slip away from us. There was a bit of a tailwind, so she was riding super fast on her own in the gutter.”
“Ellen van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans) motorpaced what was left of the peloton up to her,” said Elvin. “We were all strung out behind Ellen as she worked really hard on the front to bring Emma back. As soon as Emma was caught, I counter-attacked but it was short-lived. I had attacked just before a hill, which isn’t exactly my strongest point.”
The attacks continued all the way to the finish with Tiffany Cromwell (Specialized-lululemon) getting in the final dig three kilometres from the finish. Rabobank assumed responsibility of chasing down Cromwell, bringing her back inside the final kilometre.
“I was sitting just behind Emma at that point,” said Elvin. “I pulled her as hard as I could into the last corner to lead her out, and only Vos could come around her before the line. Although we would have obviously preferred to have beaten Vos in the sprint, we’re happy to get Emma slipped in there for second.”
“For us, today was a successful day,” added Barras. “The breaks didn’t get up the road but that was a function of the conditions that we found. The wind simply wasn’t as decisive as we had expected. We were aggressive, and we set up a lot of moves that put other teams on the defensive. I think there was only one sector of less than five kilometres where we had to chase.”
“Beyond the execution, which was excellent, Emma finished second today and banked a few more bonification seconds,” Barras continued. “I’m really, really pleased about the way the team handled itself so far. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say over the course of the first three days, we’ve hit 90 percent of the targets we’ve identified for ourselves both in terms of the outcome and the behaviours. That’s extremely satisfying. The team is very disciplined, drilled and racing well.”