Wiggle High5’s signing of Emma Johnasson for the 2016 and 2017 seasons meant that they were putting an even bigger emphasis on their already powerful Classics team. So far, the Swedish national champion has pulled through with a second place at Le Samyn des Dames, and she wants to up her game at Strade Bianche, the first race of the inaugural Women’s WorldTour.
“I have a really busy spring program, like I always do,” Johansson told Cyclingnews. “I try to race as much as I can up until May. I’m doing pretty much everything.”
A versatile rider, Johansson can perform well in one-day Classics just as much as she can in the bigger stage races, but the former mountain biker still has a love for the off road and is looking forward to proving her skills on the white gravel roads in Tuscany on Saturday.
“I love the one-day races in Belgium, and Strade Bianche is really pretty, I loved doing it last year,” said Johnasson, who had an unlucky flat tire last year and ended up finishing 12th.
This year marks the second edition of Strade Bianche. Last year, Megan Guarnier made a solo attack to win the race, followed by her Boels Dolmans teammate and current world champion Lizzie Armitstead, while Elisa Longo Borghini was third.
This year’s race will be 121km in length and includes seven sectors of dirt roads with the race finishing with a tough climb to Siena and then a descent to the Piazza del Campo. Last year, Johansson had a mechanical that affected a race she would have otherwise been a major factor in.
“I know I can be apart of the race this year. Last year, I was unlucky and had a flat on one of the early long sections and it took forever to get back into the race. I’m sure it’s a race where we can do well.
“We have a strong team and I’m sure it’s an important one. Elisa is from Italy and did well last year so, for her, it’s going to be important, too. It’s a tough game.”
Being a tactical rider makes Johansson a strong asset to the Wiggle High5 team. She believes she can add to the team’s overall success in 2016 by being both physically and tactically strong in the finals.
“I’m a strong rider and know how to race in the front and be a part of the race, and in the moves, but I’m also very experienced I’ve been around for a very long time. I can read the game,” Johansson said.
“I’m quite tactical and I would like to think that Wiggle High5 can use that when coming into the final. I can react to things right away and I think that is a strength I can apply to the team. Adding me to the group is bringing some experience and I hope they look forward to using me in the tactical game.”
Strade Bianche is in a special position this year as the first race of the inaugural Women’s WorldTour. The UCI announced the world-class series that combines 17 one-day races and stage races last Autumn, for a total of 35 days of racing in 2016.
“I also believe that with Strade Bianche being the first WorldTour race, there will be extra pressure around it, extra media coverage,” Johansson said. “But for me, whether or not it’s a WorldTour, it doesn’t matter. If we are there at the start line, I think it’s always going to be an important race.”
That being said, Johansson believes that the creation of the Women’s WorldTour will help develop women’s racing, and that it truly is the start of a new era for women's cycling. She’s been racing for over a decade and said the peloton is almost unrecognisable to what it used to be, with teams becoming more professional and the overall strength of the peloton growing.
“I’ve been around for 10 years and the change I’ve seen during the years is just massive,” Johansson said. “Before you could pick out maybe four or five riders to win a World Cup. Today, it’s very difficult to pick out because there are just too many, and the teams are very professional.
“Every professional team is strong now and even the domestic riders are strong enough to win races. Racing more tactically has also opened up who is capable of winning a race, anyone can win a race these days. It’s a very high level today compared to 10 years back.”