My Story: Bad luck, good legs and fighting to the finish at Strade Bianche

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Strade Bianche proved the perfect setting for all sorts of stories from the professional women’s peloton. And since Saturday you’ve probably heard many of them. Megan Guarnier made her race-winning move off the back of teammate Lizzie Armitstead’s attack. Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and her Bigla Pro Cycling teammates impressed with their aggression. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle Honda) was delighted to finish in third place as the top Italian finisher in stunning Siena.

We used quotes in our Strade Bianche photo gallery to give you insight into some of the stories that might have otherwise gone untold. In speaking to riders that may not have featured in the finale, it is our intention to share the full range of moments and emotions that riders experience on race day.

My Story, a new Ella CyclingTips series, is meant to accomplish the same. This series has been conceputalised based on the belief that every rider who lines up to race has a unique story to tell about her day.

Emma Johansson finished in 12th place last Saturday. Her result doesn’t look like much on paper. Johansson was an obvious pick for the podium before the start of Strade Bianche, yet, when the decisive moves were made on the second stretch of gravel, the pre-race favourite wasn’t there. Johansson’s name wasn’t mentioned in the live race coverage on Twitter or the post-race highlights.

She crossed the line slightly more than four minutes behind Guarnier, who soloed across the finish line. Johansson was three minutes and 26 seconds behind Guarnier’s teammate Lizzie Armitstead who bested Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle Honda) in a two-up sprint for second.

It’s understandable that you might think Johansson simply suffered from bad legs.
But it wasn’t bad legs. It was bad luck. Johansson punctured on the second of five section of gravel. It was the longest gravel section of the race at 9.5 km – and it was always going to be the most decisive. While Johansson waited roadside, the race rode away from her.

Where others might quit in frustration, Johansson fought valiantly. Johansson changed wheels with her teammate Valentina Scandolara – and as soon as Johansson had that wheel, she gave chase. She chased and chased and chased – collecting riders in her wheel as she gave pursuit of the lead group in front of her. While her efforts may not have amounted to the desired result, she rode into Siena with pride. Which means Johansson’s story is of fierce determination in the face of frustration.


I had a really good ride at Strade Bianche. It’s funny to say that, but I did.

It was all smooth in the beginning. I felt really strong. I had been feeling really good in training last week, which was exciting building up to this race.

Things were to plan early. Not much happened until we came into the long section of gravel road. We knew position would be really important in this section, and I was top five over the first gravel hill. I was exactly where I needed to be.

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It started going down hill, and that’s when I heard a hissing sound. I looked around for a few moments before realizing that I was the one who had the flat. It was a really bad moment.

My teammate Gracie Elvin had the job to look after me today. She was sitting right in front of me when I flatted. She was looking really strong, and I thought she could have a good ride today, so I didn’t want her to stop for me. I knew if I told her about the flat tyre she might stop, so I didn’t say anything. Maybe that was a mistake looking back. It’s hard to say.

I rode the flat for a little bit, but there comes a point where you can’t ride a flat anymore. You risk crashing or doing other damage.

I pulled to the side of the road where I removed my rear wheel– and then I waited desperataly for service or a wheel. I saw my teammate Valentina Scandolara, and she gave me her wheel.

I struggled a bit to get the wheel back on because I was feeling frantic and stressed. Of course when it’s really important to be quick with the wheel change, you can never be quick. It was really frustrating. Eventually I got the wheel back in and started going again.

I passed all these groups as I chased like crazy toward the front of the race. I ended up riding the whole race with riders in my wheel. The number kept growing. I think there were 30 or 40 riders there by the end. I’m used to riding with a lot of riders in my wheels, but I wish I could have gotten some help.

Eventually I made up enough distance that I could see Gracie in front of me. She was dropped from the front group and was with three other riders. They where close to the leaders at that point. It’s hard to say how close because we didn’t have race radios, so we didn’t always have all the information we needed.

When I saw her, I started yelling “GRACIE!!!” but she couldn’t hear me. That’s another frustration when you don’t have communication. You can’t always talk to your teammates. She didn’t know I was there. I had probably been chasing for 15 km at that point.

I’m not saying that if Gracie had heard me, the outcome would have changed, but there’s always a possibility. If, if, if. That’s all I can think about know. All the things that we could have done differently.

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When I finally got up to Gracie’s group, it was still nearly a minute to the front group, and they had already started to split up a bit. Normally I would never chase back with a group that has Gracie in it. She’s really strong right now and what she could do on this type of course with so many altitude metres is quite impressive. Something good is going to be coming out of her soon. I chased on Saturday, even though she was up the road and there were a lot of riders on my wheel, because I thought together we could make a difference.

The race got harder and harder. All the steepest hills came at the end. I loved it. And that was my main frustration. I could have really done something on this course, and because of the flat tyre, I didn’t get my chance.

I’ve looked at my SRM data. Power per kilo at Strade Bianche? I think I won that one. It doesn’t help anything, but it’s good to know that I’m in good form. I like that feeling. It’s just really annoying to know that I wasted my good form by chasing the entire second half of the race. What an unlucky day!

Despite the bad luck, I did enjoy the race and I’m proud that I fought. I think a lot of people in my situation would throw in the towel. They would think it was impossible to get back to the front because they were far, far, far away – so they wouldn’t even try.

Me? That’s just not who I am. I’m never going to give up. You never know what’s going to happen, and a race isn’t over until you pass the finish line. I had looked forward to this course and this race for a long time, and to be a part of it and ride into that famous finish – I still wanted to do that. And I wanted to do it with pride. It was pride just for myself. No one else cares unless you win the race. But I care. I needed to know that I had done this race justice by fighting until the end.

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