“Emma was feeling really good today, and the finish is exactly the sort that usually suits her,” said Edmondson. “She could have won it if she wanted to, but she gave it to me, which was really nice. She deserves a huge thank you for that.”
Sport Director Dave McPartland sees things slightly differently than the stage winner. While he agrees that Johansson likely could have won, he recognises that Edmondson had the legs to grab the opportunity that presented itself.
“We were always thinking we were racing for Emma today,” McPartland said. “This goes to show how good of form Nettie has come into late in the season. She barely seems to believe that she’s won on such a hard stage. Nettie was in a good position, doing her job perfectly for the team, and ultimately got rewarded.”
Edmondson originally had been slated to launch early attacks in an attempt to break up the field over the hard, hilly Geraardsbergen course that included four times up the infamous Muur.
“We planned to attack this race apart,” explained Edmondson. “Gu, Gracie [Elvin] and I were in charge of attacks during the first half of the race. Jessie [MacLean] and Loes [Gunnewijk] were responsible for attacks in the final, and Emma could do her thing up the Muur.”
The attacks proved effective, and eventually a group of around ten riders broke away from the front of the field. Edmondson, Gunnewijk and Johansson had made the move. Gunnewijk launched another missive to slip away alone.
“Loes went out there and set this whole thing up for the team,” said McPartland. “She was away alone with a group of nine or so riders chasing. We had Nettie and Emma in that chase group, and they were enjoying a free ride on the back. Loes was super strong to hold off the chase group the way she did. She really set things up perfectly, and she was the virtual leader on the road for part of the day.”
In the build-up to the final ascent of the Muur, the peloton reeled in the chase group. Gunnewijk remained ahead of the bunch with a 55” advantage. Ellen van Dijk, second overall at the start of the stage, attacked up the final climb.
“When Ellen attacked, Emma followed,” explained McPartland. “She was the only one who could. Of course, she sat on while van Dijk did all the work to get across to Loes. They caught Loes with around 20km left to race, and they were away together for awhile.”
Fifteen kilometres from the finish, the peloton shut down the newly formed leading group. With a bunch sprint looking likely, ORICA-AIS began to ready it’s sprint train.
“When it came back together, we decided we’d ride for Emma in the sprint,” explained Edmondson. “We were driving it on the front in the last 10km. Jessie did a huge pull from a couple k to go, and then Loes took over. I was the last to take my turn before Emma would sprint, so I went as fast as I could from the bottom of the hill that leads to the finish. Emma saw that I got a gap, and she stalled a bit. I realised right away what she was doing, and I rode as fast I could to the line.”
“It’s crazy,” she added. “Yesterday was the sprint stage. That’s the one I wanted to win. I got third, and I told myself I needed to be happy with a podium. Today, I didn’t even think about myself at all. I just thought about doing my job for the team, and look what happened.”
McPartland credits that attitude as integral to his team’s success. With each of his riders ready and willing to commit to a team plan, the wins keep coming.
“Today was one of the best pieces of teamwork I saw from the girls all year,” McPartland said. “They did their job exactly as we had discussed. Everyone played their part.”
“This win isn’t just mine,” said Edmondson, echoing McPartland’s sentiments. “It’s a win for the entire team. They all deserve this win after attacking all day, especially Loes who spent so much time solo in the front. Even though we didn’t achieve our goal of winning the overall, it was really nice to end the week on a high note.”
Although ORICA-AIS was after the yellow jersey on Monday, McPartland was quick to extend a heartfelt congratulations to van Dijk for taking the prize his team had chased.
“Ellen was the strongest,” he admitted. “She deserved to win. Her team was on the back foot today, but she still came away with the win. Full credit to her. We really respect the way she raced.”
Despite missing out on the overall victory, ORICA-AIS can hardly feel disappointed with their achievements. The team finished second on the opening stage team time trial and saw huge gains in the discipline compared to Team Time Trial World Championships Specialized-lululemon. Johansson sprinted to second on stage two. Edmondson was up for third in the stage three sprint. Gunnewijk was awarded most aggressive on stage four after her solo breakaway set her teammates up for their 1-2 finish. Johansson jumped to third overall and the team won the team classification.
“We were back to our racing aggressively, and it set us up for results every day,” said McPartland. “The team we have here was well-suited to the terrain and the aggressive nature of the race. We were always on the back foot after the first stage because of the time difference to Specialized-lululemon from the team time trial, but we never gave up.”