Swede Johansson targets home World Cup

HTC-Columbia seeks first TTT win

The UCI Women's World Cup heads north to Sweden for a double round in the town of Vårgårda - starting first with a team time trial and continuing with Sunday's road race in which Marianne Vos (Nederlands Bloeit) will attempt to defend her series lead.

Vos' closest competitor in the individual standings will have extra motivation to take a victory: Swedish champion Emma Johansson needs 60 points to equal her Dutch competitor and will be keen to give her country its first win since the race became a World Cup in 2006 and was won by Susanne Ljungskog.

The fact that Johansson is within striking distance of Vos' lead in the series will mean the Dutch rider, who has shown time and again that she can win from bunch sprints, will either keep the race together or allow a non-threatening break to go away. Her Nederlands Bloeit team is strong enough to control the race, too.

"Of course it's a tough situation," Johansson said, "but I will take one race at the time and hopefully score more points than Marianne.

"I'm in great shape and I have a feeling this can be a really good race. The season so far has been great - I'm more aggressive, taking more chances and it has paid off."

Johannson has yet to claim a victory in the World Cup this year, but placed on the podium in La Flèche Wallonne and the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, and showed fine form in last week's Thüringen Rundfahrt, where she won the first stage but then crashed out while leading the race on stage two.

Vos, on the other hand, has won the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and leads both the World Cup and UCI rankings thanks to a number of victories this season, including two stages of the recent women's Giro d'Italia.

The short climb of the Hägrungabacken is mid-way through the 11km lap, and while it does not provide much selection in the early part of the race, in the final few of the 12 laps, it certainly will begin to feel more like a mountain, allowing a strong, motivated group of riders to escape.

This scenario played out in the first three editions of the race, where the hill along with the race's position in the World Cup series played into the tactics used in the event. In the first year, Ljungskog came to the line with Nicole Cooke, who had to trade a shot at the win to earn points toward her eventual overall World Cup title.

In 2007, it was Chantal Beltman who soloed to the win almost three minutes ahead of the chase group, while the contenders for the World Cup took a back seat.

American Kori Seehafer prevailed over her compatriot Kim Andersen in a two-woman breakaway in 2008 as Andersen's teammate Judith Ardnt had all but sewn up the World Cup by that point, but last year the race came down to a large bunch sprint won by Vos en route to securing her second career World Cup overall win.

Not to be discounted is Friday's team time trial, in which individuals of the winning team will be rewarded 35 World Cup points, while the riders in the second placed team will get 30 points. For third place the riders will get 25 points.

For the past two years, the Cervelo TestTeam has taken the victory, but with Olympic champion Kristin Armstrong retired, the HTC-Columbia squad hopes to earn its shot at proving it is the strongest team in the peloton.

"Team time trials are one of our big strengths as a squad, so we're determined to 'set the record straight' and get that first place we've been close to getting in the last couple of years," said HTC-Columbia team manager Ronny Lauke.

"It's a challenging course which doesn't give you any opportunities to make mistakes - 41 kilometres long and with a tough early section followed by some flatter, more open roads in the last part."

The team will have Arndt, Andersen, Noemi Cantele, Linda Villumsen, Adrie Visser and Ellen Van Dijk, while last year's champion Cervelo will have Regina Bruins, Sarah Düster, Kirsten Wild, Charlotte Becker, Emma Pooley and Iris Slappendel.

There will be a record 20 teams fighting it out over the 41km undulating course, including the all-Swedish team Alriksson Go:Green with Monica Holler (who finished third in Open du Suède in 2006), Jennie Stenerhag (Swedish champion in 2009), Madeleine Olsson (Swedish criterium champion in 2009), Jessica Kihlbom, Malin Rydlund and Linnea Sjöblom.

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