“This is a very big victory for me,” said Johansson. “It’s an especially important win because all the big names were here. I’ve had a lot of podium places this year, and I’m happy to finally pull out a win like this. It was so important for me to bring it home today. I had to do it. I didn’t have any other option.”
It is Johansson’s fifth win of the season, her first general classification victory. With two stage wins, Johansson’s overall victory and the team classification win, ORICA-AIS dominated the four day Basque race.
“Emma deserved to win,” said Sport Director Dave McPartland. “She was out there on the front all day. She was consistently the strongest rider in the tour. I’m very happy for her.”
“Winning the team classification was an added bonus,” McPartland added. “It’s a just reward for all the girls that are always working for others. It shows that Emma’s win was a true team effort and that this team puts personal ambitions aside to ride for the team goal.”
Although Johansson made it look easy, it was a hard fought battle today. The 88 kilometre course was relentless with its three categorised climbs, twisty descents and wet roads. The peloton first split at the 20 kilometre mark, and for the next 90 minutes, it was a constant reshuffle at the front.
“I was always reasonably confident that we would get the job done today, but it was such a stressful stage,” said McPartland. “There wasn’t a relaxing kilometre.”
“We knew that the other teams would race offensively,” added Johansson. “We were prepared for an aggressive race. All day long the race broke up and came back together. More attacks would happen, and it would break up and came back together all over again.”
Johansson ensured that she was in every split. Isolated in the first group that take shape after the second intermediate sprint, Johansson was joined by Shara Gillow in a the second breakaway that formed ahead of the climbs that dominated the second half of the race.
“It felt like Elisa [Longo Borghini] (Hitec Products UCK) and I were the strongest today,” said Johansson. “She and I were always in the front. We kept riding away from the others, and a new group would take shape. Finally, at the end, there were only four of us – me, Elisa, Evelyn [Stevens] (Specialized lululemon) and Anna [van der Breggen] (Sengers Ladies CT).”
Johansson, Longo Borghini and Stevens escaped from the fractured peloton on the descent between the two category two hills in the last hour of racing. They built up their advantage over the bunch on the final ascent. Van der Breggen managed to latch onto the leaders shortly after the last summit.
“I was really focused today,” said Johansson. “I know I said that yesterday, too, but it’s true. Being in yellow seems to give riders extra focus or extra nerves. For me, it’s pressure, but it’s good pressure. It gives me more motivation. I was tired today after really emptying myself in the time trial yesterday, but I stayed alert the entire race.”
As the four leaders headed toward the finish, McPartland’s confidence steadily built. Johansson only needed to follow wheels and keep it upright to win the overall.
“I was still a little nervous,” said Johansson. “I couldn’t let Elisa get away, and I didn’t want to let Evie go anywhere either. If Evie had opened up a bigger gap than I felt comfortable with, Elisa could have sat on while I had to ride. I didn’t want to be on the back foot, so I stayed attentive all the way to the finish.”
Johansson’s strategy proved successful. The four leaders headed into the finishing stretch together as Longo Borghini took the stage win ahead of Stevens. Johansson rounded out the stage podium to win the yellow jersey.
“This is as close to a hometown win as anything for me,” said Johansson. “My first contract was with a Basque team based in Durango. I live up north in Sweden at that time, so I couldn’t go home between races. Instead, I stayed with the girls here. I became good friends with my teammates. Their family became my family. I saw a lot of familiar faces out on the course every day. It feels like I’ve won at home.”