Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling’s Emma Johansson has taken a second victory in as many days in the Emakumeen Bira stage race, between Etxarri Aranaz and the hilltop Santuario Urkiola. The Swedish Champion outclimbed the rest of the field at the end of the 109km stage, with US Champion Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) taking second place, one second back. For the second time in two days, Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling riders occupied steps one and three of the podium, as Elisa Longo Borghini took third place, five seconds behind Johansson.
With overnight leader Carmen Small (Cervélo-Bigla) finishing a group 28 seconds back, Johansson took over the yellow jersey.
“It’s all a blur!” Johansson laughed. “It was just aggressive racing for the last seven or eight K, and I was first around that last corner. You could feel that everyone was hurting, and I just thought I’d give my all up to the finish line and, if anyone came past me they’d have to be faster than me!
“Nobody came past, and Elisa was third. That was really important for the bonus seconds, but it also means that she’s third on GC too.
“It was a really good day for us, Everyone did a really good job,” the Swedish Champion added. “We wanted to come here for stage wins, and for sure also for the GC. I don’t know if we thought I’d be taking over the GC today, but it’s just a really good team effort.”
The mostly flat parcours saw a fast pace set in the peloton throughout the stage. Only Louisa Lobigs (Australia) was able to escape, but the lone rider was caught before the halfway point. Several groups of riders tried to get away, but Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling riders made sure that, either they were represented, or that the group was closed down quickly.
“I think it was just constantly moving,” Johansson explained. “There were a lot of attempts as well, because there was a bit of wind out there. Obviously, Cervélo-Bigla wanted to have a group up the road to take away the bonus seconds, which we didn’t. So we had to make sure we always had someone there, and that it all stayed together.
“The sprints were really good for me because they were at the top of small hills, so the girls did a really good job covering that. There were a lot of attempts, but only that one single rider - the Australian - was up the road on the first bonus sprint, but the girls did a really good job to put me into position.
“I talked to Elisa before the last hill, which also had a sprint on the top. From that one it was about 10km to the finish and, because Carmen was suffering on that one, we thought if we raced aggressively she was not going to be there.
“As we went over the top I left a gap to Elisa, so she went away on her own, and that put pressure on them once again and they had to work to close it. Then the speed dropped and a lot of our teammates came back, and that was really good for the last kilometres.”
As the roads steepened, however, the big favourites for the stage pulled clear, with Johansson able to drop Guarnier on the steep uphill straight.
“I just really love being here,” Johansson added. “Racing up here is something very special for me, because here is where it all started for me. I have a lot of friends and supporters along the way. Bir will always be a very special race for me, and starting in yellow tomorrow will be a very proud moment!”
1. Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling)
2. Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans)
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling)