Johansson Victorious in Le Samyn des Dames
Emma Johansson sprinted to victory in Le Samyn des Dames, thereby securing her first victory of the 2014 season. A dedicated effort from the AIS team set the stage for Johansson to power across the finish line ahead of Ashleigh Moolman (Hitec Products) and Sofie de Vuyst (Futurumshop.no-Zannata).
“It means a lot to the team to win races this way,” a proud Johansson told Roadcycling.com after being celebrated on the podium. “There was a big difference between today and the way we raced last weekend, and it shows that when we race as a team, we can win. Just coming into today, everybody was more prepared and focused. I think that was really important for us.”
Vera Koedooder (Bigla Cycling Team) animated the early action with a solo attack on the opening lap of the 112 kilometer race. The leader entered the finishing circuit in solo fashion with a slim advantage over the field to contest the first of four 21 kilometer loops. By the time the main peloton reached the top of the cobbled Côte de Montignies sur Roc for the first time, Koedooder was back in the bunch.
“We were a little disappointed with our performance on Saturday,” Team AIS sports director Gene Bates explained. “It was good to get second at Het Nieuwsblad, but the team didn’t work together as well as it could have done. Therefore, we had an extra emphasis on teamwork today."
“We know Emma is on good form,” Bates continued. “She wanted to go for the victory, so the plan was to set her up today – either in a breakaway or in a sprint. The uphill finish suited her.”
“The main tactic was to try to get a group up the road,” Johansson explained. “I was saving myself for the last lap. The finish suited me, but I wasn’t completely confident. It’s always a risk coming in with a big group.”
The action heated up on the finishing circuit. Trixi Worrack (Specialized-lululemon) attacked and spent a bit of time ahead of the peloton before her teammate Elise Delzenne and Hitec Product’s Ashleigh Moolman joined the attack. However, the trio's move was short-lived and the peloton, albeit being slightly reduced, had regrouped with three laps remaining.
“When we got to the circuit, we wanted to make the race really hard,” Bates commented and continued "Jessie [MacLean] went on the attack and covered a few moves. We also had Valentina [Scandolara] doing the same. We reserved Spratty [Amanda Spratt] Loes [Gunnewijk] for the middle part of the race. Those two and Carlee [Taylor] were tasked with helping Emma in the final.”
The attacks, counter-attacks, splits and chases continued throughout the final three laps. Solo moves, small groups and a larger group of eight riders all managed to slip the stronghold of the bunch only to be reeled back in prior to them gaining any sort of useful advantage. Always attentive at the head of affairs, Johansson swept up enough points to win the GPM classification en route to the race win.
“The GPM was right at the top of the cobbled section,” explained Bates. “Emma was always in a good position over the cobbles. I don’t know that the classification was something she specifically chased. I suspect it was more of a natural consequence of her good positioning.”
Delzenne launched a bold move in the last lap. Initially, the French National Champion was able to steadily build up her advantage, but inside the final ten kilometers the gap rapidly began to shrink.
“It’s ten kilometers to the finish from the top of the cobbled hill,” explained Johansson. “There were a lot of attacks after that hill on the last lap, but I felt like we had it completely under control. I still wasn’t completely confident that I could win or exactly how I would do it in the end.”
“I gave it a crack on the cobbled hill,” Johansson added. “That split things up. My legs were burning form the effort, so I hope the legs were burning a bit for the others, too.”
Gunnewijk had assumed responsibility of the chase ahead of the cobbled climb, and she resumed her position at the head of affairs after Johansson’s acceleration. Leading the bunch through the twists and turns, she pegged back Delzenne. Five kilometers from the finish line, it was gruppo compatto. A field sprint appeared imminent.
“Spratty attacked in the last two or three kilometers,” noted Johansson. “There were a few more attempts. I knew I needed to be near the front and ready to go with any attacks in the last kilometer.”
Moolman was the first to open her sprint. Johansson hopped on the South African’s wheel and enjoyed a draft until she was ready to unleash her final acceleration.
“We didn’t have any riders available for a proper train,” Johansson explained and added “Everyone had done so much work, so it was up to me find my own way. No team had a lead-out. Everyone was sort of on their own.”
“Ashleigh started the sprint really early,” Johansson said. “She gave me quite a good lead-out. I didn’t think too much. I just knew when it was the right time to go – and so I did.”