Emma Johansson wins Bira stage two photo finish over Annemiek van Vleuten

by Jessi Braverman

Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) beat out Annemiek van Vleuten (Bigla) by the narrowest of margins on Friday to win stage two of Euskal Emakumeen Bira. Initial reports named van Vleuten the winner. The Dutchwoman had thrown her hands up across the line in celebration. A photo finish later declared Johansson the winner.

“It could have gone either way,” said Johansson, in a statement. “I was coming with a lot of speed, and I saw that Annemiek let go of her handlebars, so I thought that might be the thing to put it in my favour.”

That was close today #Bira

A photo posted by Bigla Pro Cycling Team (@bigla_cycling) on

“She didn’t know I was coming,” Johansson added. “I feel a little bit sorry for taking it away from her, but after losing by so little yesterday, I sort of feel like I deserved a win today.”

Johansson’s referencing the stage one photo finish on Thursday in which neither Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) nor Johansson knew who had won the stage until they had looked at finish line photos. Guarnier pipped Johansson by milimetres to take the stage win, and Johansson settled for second.

As for van Vleuten, the 32-year-old was understandably disappointed that her early celebration cost her the stage win.

“When I came back [to the front group] I attacked right away,” van Vleuten said in a statement. She had joined the little group with two kilometres left to race. “At first I was alone, and I gave everything — maximum. Then Katrin Garfoot from Orica-AIS came with me in the last kilometre, and I sprinted with 250 metres to go.”

“It was confusing where I needed to go,” van Vleuten added. “In the last 100 metre there was a corner to the right, and I think I lost some time there.”

“They came close but I didn’t feel them coming,” she continued. “I looked on my left shoulder, and I didn’t see Garfoot anywhere and that’s why I wanted to celebrate, but it was too early because then Johannson came on the right and jumped. I’ve never made a mistake like this before and it cost me the victory. “

Johansson and van Vleuten were sprinting from an eight-rider leading group that took shape over the hilly run-in to the stage finish in Fruiz.

“There was a climb that peaked with about eight kilometres to go and at the top of that there was still quite a big group,” Johansson explained. “After it, there was another smaller hill, about 1.5km and a lot steeper than the bigger climb. We came away with five riders before three more joined us before the finish.”

Unlike stage one, stage two was an animated affair for the majority of the 82.2km day. Featuring two ascents of a category three climb separated by lumpy roads, Friday’s stage was a constant exercise in ups and downs and twists and turns.

Euskal Emakumeen Bira 2015 (2.1) stage -2

A nine-rider escape slipped away from the peloton following the first ascent of the category three climb, and from there, attacks were aplenty. Bigla, Boels-Dolmans, Lotto Soudal Ladies, Orica-AIS and Rabo Liv were all involved in the aggressive action.

Van Vleuten and Garfoot had a slight gap on Johansson coming out of the last turn before the finish line.

“As I came around the last corner with 100 metres to go, Kat was up the road together with Annemiek, and it was so close,” Johansson said. “I didn’t want to take it away from Kat if she had the chance to go for it but once I saw that she was behind, I hit it as hard as I could and just made it.”

It is Johansson’s second win in Basque Country, following her victory at the one-day Emakumeen Saria, a warm-up to the five day tour.

Garfoot rounded out the podium in Fruiz while race leader Kasia Niewiadoma (Rabo-Liv) slotted into fourth place on the stage, on the same time as Johansson, to stay in yellow. The young Polish rider remains tied on time with Ashleigh Moolman-Paiso (Bigla), and the duo are two seconds ahead on Johansson on the overall.

Euskal Emakumeen Bira 2015 (2.1) stage -2

Racing continues on Saturday with a 122km stage from Iuretta to Iturmendi. Stage three takes the peloton into Urkiola National Park for the day’s longest climb, an 11km climb with an average gradient of 4.3 percent. Find additional details about the stage in this Velofocus preview.

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