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Emma Johansson half a wheel away from Ronde van Vlaanderen victory

Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling’s Emma Johansson came within half a wheel of taking an incredible victory in the Ronde van Vlaanderen – the Tour of Flanders – today. The Swedish champion was just pipped to the line by World Champion Lizzie Armitstead after the two of them had escaped a very select front group in the final cobbled climbs of the 141km Classic. Last year’s winner, Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling’s Elisa Longo Borghini, took an excellent fifth place as Armitstead’s teammate Chantal Blaak won the sprint for third place, just two seconds behind the duo.

“It’s hard to come into the final with Lizzie,” Johansson said afterwards. “It’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders because you know the girls have been supporting you. You just want to do your very best, and bring Wiggle High5 the victory, but I know that they know that I’m in a difficult situation.

“I know she’s a little bit faster than me, so I had to start the sprint, and I did that – I felt like I was still very powerful at the end – but she came past me at the very last moment. But that’s how it is sometimes…”

Johansson and Armitstead escaped between the climbs of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, with less than 15km to race, as the World Champion countered a move that included Longo Borghini. The pair was 18 seconds clear at the top of the Paterberg and, with both having teammates in the group behind, they looked uncatchable.

Nevertheless, the gap had reduced to ten seconds on the flat run to the final kilometre, and was just two as Armitstead just managed to force her wheel over the line ahead of Johansson’s.

“When you’ve done everything you can, and you know you’ve done everything right – and when someone is that much better than you – of course you’re disappointed, but I think we did a really nice race,” Johansson explained. “The whole team was really good; we did what we were supposed to do, we took it in our own hands, and I just loved the racing today. I enjoyed it from the first moment, riding through Zingem [her hometown in Flanders]…

“It was so emotional to be here, and do this race. On every section you can hear your name, and I could hear Jolien’s name. Everyone is there to support us. It’s just a pity we couldn’t be there on the top step today. We would have deserved it; we really did everything we could to be there.

“It was close, but I’m sure it will come soon.”

For Longo Borghini, the pressure of starting with race number one as last year’s winner was absent, as the team was able to stick close together and work well on the narrow roads. Able to sit in the chasing group in the closing kilometres, the Italian was able to save herself for the finish, but was just unable to beat the Boels-Dolmans duo of Blaak and Megan Guarnier, who had also been able to sit in.

“I said before the race that they had to win the race, because I already won it,” Longo Borghini said. “I know the feeling to win Flanders. I’m pretty happy that Emma was second, she was really close to the first place. And I think the team rode really well because we were always there, and we worked really well as a team. Motivation was there; professionalism was there; we were ready and relaxed, which is really important.

“I was waiting for somebody to follow so I could easily counter, but nobody could,” she said of the winning move in the final kilometres. “I think everybody was a bloc. I felt really, really strong, and I could see that Emma had good legs so I was confident.”

1. Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans)
2. Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling)
3. Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans)
5. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling)

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