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An interview with Emma Johansson, September 23, 2008
Olympic Games silver medallist Emma Johansson goes into Saturday's World championships as one of the riders to beat. Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins caught up with the young Swede - who turns 25 today - to discuss her meteoric rise and prospects for the upcoming race.
In only her third full year as a professional cyclist Emma Johansson is emerging as one of the riders to beat. Her first two years with Bizkaia-Panda Software-Durango, where she rode as a stagiare the year before, and Vlaanderen-Capri Sonne-T-Interim were followed by a move to the Dutch AA-Drink team for 2008. This move to a much bigger team has seen her results improve considerably, culminating most notably in an Olympic Games silver medal from Beijing, China in August.
"No, it's not bad at all," laughed Johansson on the subject of her Olympic silver medal. Since the Olympic glory Johansson has had no time to rest on her laurels. A 10th place in the Grand Prix Plouay was followed immediately by overall victory in the Trophée d'Or Féminin, including a stage win on the penultimate day. This victory was a first in her career, but also marked her as a rider for the others to watch.
"It was [my first stage race victory]," she said. "So it was really nice to be able to do that after the Olympics and people are really looking to me now. Before, I wasn't totally unknown, but they didn't really expect me to do anything, and then I could always surprise them, but I can't do that any more.
"It feels a little bit like [I'm a marked rider] at least like now I'm still really good and I'm in really good shape, and they know that I'm good and it's possible for me to ride away on the front," she added. "I think everyone has this, not just for me but for other good riders as well. You always know what other riders are good and what riders can ride offensive."
A brief week at her home in Belgium afterwards was followed by the Tour Cycliste Féminin International Ardèche, where she was on the podium on all but the time trial stage and finished fourth overall. "I didn't get a stage win that I was hoping for," she said. "Overall I just felt really good and that's the most important now, that I have a good feeling about being on the bike and that racing's going well and I can just keep on doing what I'm doing and be relaxed for the Worlds and just that I know my shape is good and I can't really do anything more about that. It's nice to be able to do some good results and feel that you're feeling strong."
As Swedish champion against the clock, Johansson will once again be taking the start in the time trial on Wednesday. She doesn't expect however to be competitive, but the extra kilometres should serve as a warm up for the weekend's main event. "I'm doing the time trial so that's..." she hesitated, "I did it last year and the year before. It should be good to get another race, it's not like that important for me but - it's more for the road - but it's good to get one more race.
"I haven't seen [the course], but I heard about it," she added. "They say that it's hard, but it's not as hard as last year so I don't really know what to expect. For me the harder the better, but…"
The Swedish men's team only has an allocation of three riders, but the women have the full compliment of six, reflecting the relative standing of each in their respective pelotons. With a two-time World Champion in Susanne Ljungskog and one of the sport's brightest young stars in Emilia Fahlin, Johansson believes that they will be one of the teams to beat.
"We're all going to work [together], we're sending a full team, we're going there with six riders and that's, I think, the second time that we do that ever in Sweden," she said. "So, it's nice to be able to stand on the start line with a full team and I really look forward to that. Of course it's me and Susanne that are really the top and it's for us there as the course suits us.
"Then we have Karin Aune, she's going as well, and then Emelia and Marie [Lindberg] and Sara [Mustonen], so there are some young riders as well and they're there to get the experience and to help us," she added. "I think everyone looks forward to it and I'm pretty sure that we can do a good job together."
Finding a new home
Johansson's current AA-Drink team effectively finishes at the end of this season, as it looks to concentrate more on cyclo-cross and other local areas. With an Olympic silver medal and a stage race victory under her belt this season, one might think that she would have a contract signed for next year. This however is not the case, but the young Swede is relaxed about the situation and confident about her immediate future.
"There's a lot of rumours that are going on," she explained. "But I haven't signed anything. I've been talking to some teams but nothing... I'm not going to stand without a team, that's the most important thing I think. There's been so many things that's been going on and I've been racing a lot as well, to Beijing and then coming back, Plouay and the Trophee d'Or and then back here and then a week here in Belgium, but that was just… I was really tired and the first days I was just lying in bed, and then I recovered and then I did Ardeche and then it's just a week and then it's the Worlds. It's really busy and I had a really busy programme this year.
"Maybe I should be stressed out that I haven't found a team, but really I'm not," she added. "I don't want to spend any energy on it right now."
Despite the obvious size of the Olympics, Johansson sees the World Championships as a bigger target within the world of cycling. "The rainbow jersey would be bigger that's for sure," she added.
However, with her country taking just four silver (another of which was taken by Gustav Erik Larsson in the men's time trial) and one bronze medal from the whole games, the media interest has been phenomenal. "In Sweden if you see what I've done - I was second on a race and everyone's just crazy about it," she said. "Then you can see how big the Olympics is. Of course if I could win the rainbow jersey that would be even bigger.
"For me it would be even bigger, even though in Sweden it would be okay," she added. "I know as well, Susanne Ljungskog she was two times the World champion, but all the publicity that I've got from the silver medal in Beijing is just unbelievable.
"They're calling every day, I had TV coming down here from Sweden and newspapers coming here," she added. "Cycling's such a small sport in Sweden and suddenly everyone's really interested and they are following you and they are calling you and sending emails and it's just there are so many good things that have come along from this."
Under the public eye
Such publicity, and demands for her time, can be draining on a rider though, especially one preparing for another big target on the horizon. "Sometimes it's really tiring as well because when you think about winning a medal you don't think everyone's going to start to call you and want to come down to see how you have it in Belgium, make reportages about you," said Johansson. "In one way I wasn't prepared for this, but now we've found a way to handle everything and now we can just enjoy it.
"Like if I'd been second in the Worlds - last year I was sixth in the Worlds [she crossed the line in sixth place, but has since been upgraded to fifth after the disqualification of fourth placed Russian Svetlana Bubnenkova] and it's a good result, but maybe they wrote about two lines in the newspaper about it," she added. "Taking a medal, suddenly everyone knows who I am. It's a big difference and that's only because it was the Olympics."
A silver medal is a huge achievement, but Johansson was not far from taking the gold, just beaten by the superior sprint of Great Britain's Nicole Cooke. It's possible in hindsight to see where she could have raced differently, but she has no regrets over how she handled it at the time.
"I've seen the race on television and everything," she explained. "I didn't know that Nicole Cooke had let a gap going down there. If I would have known that, probably I would have tried to attack, but I didn't know it and I didn't look back either. It wasn't a time to look back because I would have crashed or something.
"Of course, if I would have known that then I would have tried something, I know that she was the strongest competitor there," she added. "Maybe it would have been my chance, but it doesn't feel like I lost the gold medal, it feels like I won the silver, so I'm just real happy with that."
Looking forward to Saturday's race in Varese though, Johansson is confident that the Swedes will once again be competitive at the front. "The [Swedish] team's maybe the strongest team ever," she said confidently. "You saw in Nurnberg [Sweden] had three riders top 10 - so it's a really strong team, yeah."
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Images by DCP/Bert Geerts
Images by CJ Farquharson/WomensCycling.net
Images by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com
Images by Casey Gibson/www.cbgphoto.com
Images by Dion Kerckhoffs/www.wielerfotos.web-log.nl