The ever-consistent Emma Johansson sprinted to her fourth consecutive third place finish at Drentse 8 van Dwingeloo. Lead out by Loes Gunnewijk and Gracie Elvin, Johansson managed third in the field sprint that capped off an exhausting day of racing. Today’s podium marks Johansson’s third top-three at Drentse 8, the first of three Dutch races over four days in the Drenthe region. Following team dinner, Sport Director Dave McPartland gave a run down of the race from the perspective of the ORICA-AIS team.
If you read Emma’s preview earlier this week, you might remember a bit of the course. It’s a pan-flat sort of figure eight circuit. We do three laps, each of 47 kilometres. With the way of course is run, there are certain places that we pass through six times. One such place is a 300 metre cobble section. The sixth passage of this section is close to the finish and has always proved a very critical part of the race. Today was no different.
Our plan was to stay relatively quiet today with the view that the World Cup on Saturday is our main target. I split our squad of six into two three-rider teams. I asked the girls that have a real chance to go well on Saturday to be less active than usual. Tiff [Tiffany Cromwell], Loes [Gunnewijk] and Emma fell into that group. That left us with Jess [Jessie MacLean], Shara [Gillow] and Gracie [Elvin] in the second group. I told these three that they could take any opportunities that came their way.
There really wasn’t much action, though. I didn’t want the girls to waste too much energy creating opportunities. I only wanted them to capitalise on any activity from other teams. During our meeting this morning, we decided that Jessie, Shara or Gracie could try to get into a small group and then work to get that group organised. Any of those three would be up for a small bunch finish. We knew the chance wasn’t good for that scenario, but we were always ready for it. No opportunities materialized.
This race is as mentally hard as it is physically challenging. Emma mentioned ‘traffic furniture’ in her race preview, but I tend to think that phrase does not do justice what the girls contend with in the Drenthe region. There are traffic islands, parked cars, potholes, and cobbles. Pair that with 180 starters fighting for the front over narrow roads. Everyone wants a good position, and not everyone can have one.
There were heaps of crashes today, and a couple of very bad ones. From what I’ve heard Ina Teutenberg (Specialized-lululemon) took the worst of it. She was knocked unconscious and taken to the hospital. We certainly wish her well. The road conditions combined with the crashes made for a really stressful day.
I’m constantly emphasizing the importance of riding on the front to the team. I want them to feel like it’s natural to be at the head of the race at all times. It’s too dangerous to be anywhere else in a race like this. The constant worry about positioning is also a bit stressful. The girls could never relax. The race required complete concentration for 140 kilometres. There wasn’t one kilometre of cruisy. It was on the whole afternoon.
A group of three riders went away on the last lap. Eventually, the three became two. They built up a maximum advantage of 45 seconds. We were never worried about it. There are other teams with faster sprinters than us, so they had the responsibility. Even without a true chase, the race came back together about ten kilometres from the finish.
From there, we found each other easily and jumped on the front. Gracie did an awesome job keeping the whole team together. With probably six kilometres left in the race, she took a massive turn on the front leading into the last time over the cobbles. When Gracie peeled off, Loes took her turn and delivered Emma onto the cobbles. Emma was sort of isolated at that point. She was the first rider to hit the final cobble section.
Riding at her own pace over the cobbles, Emma slowed down the field a little. The slight decrease in pace was enough to allow Gracie, Tiff and Loes to make it back to the front instead of getting dropped after their jobs were done. Once over the cobbles, those three got back to the front and were able to keep things going for Emma until 1200 metres to go.
Emma took over in the final kilometre. Half a kilometre from the line, she realised that she didn’t really like where she was riding. She had been on the front with Marianne Vos (Rabobank Liv/Giant) on her wheel. Emma backed off the pace, and this forced Vos to hit the front and start her sprint from 400 metres.
Although Vos probably opened her sprint earlier than she would have preferred, she won the race quite easily. It was a race for second and [Giorgia] Bronzini (Wiggle Honda) proved a bit faster today. Johansson finished behind Bronzini to round out the podium
Technically, we did everything spot on today, so I was super happy with that. The girls are shaping up to be a well-drilled sort of squad just in time for the first World Cup. We’re all incredibly focused on Saturday.
As for Emma, as you can imagine, she’s a bit frustrated with her string of third place finishes. She was third in Het Nieuwsblad when Tiff took the win. She was our best-placed rider in third at both Le Samyn and Hageland. Now, third again today. She’s happy with her form. She’s happy with how the team is coming together. She’s just frustrated to miss out on the win.
Despite her frustration, she recognises that this was probably the team’s best race of the lot. We had a meeting before the start, and we pinpointed that last cobble section as an absolutely critical place to get organised. The team listened to what each other, and they did it perfectly. Today, we did absolutely everything we could. Emma did absolutely everything she could. There were no mistakes or bad luck. She just got beaten by two better sprinters in the end.