Since the beginning of the season, we’ve known that this would be the last season of one of the greatest. As a fan, I’ve had the privilege of chatting to Emma Johansson several times and her honest, friendly approach sank on me deeply. Spanish is one of the many languages she speaks, by the way, and this explains the choice of this article’s headline. Hasta Luego means See you later.
This probably is one of the most emotional things I have ever written on women’s cycling. And I am an emotional writer. The Swedish stands for a whole generation of riders. Along with Evie Stevens, who also retires now, she is one of the reasons we fell in love with the sport. It really feels like the end of a magical era.
Leaving emotions aside (at least for a paragraph!), let’s look at her stunning palmares:
- 2 bronze (2010,2014) and 1 silver (2013) in Road World Championships
- 2 Olympic silvers: Beijing (2008) and Rio (2016)
- 2 World Cup wins: Drenthe (2009) and Binda (2014)
- 3 times GC winner in Thüringen Rundhfart (2011, 2013 & 2015)
- 2 times GC winner in Emakumeen Bira (2013 & 2016) and Trophée d’Or (2010 & 2011)
- GC winner in Lotto Belgium Tour (2015) and BeNe Ladies Tour (2014)
- 5 times Swedish Champion (RR and ITT)
- 1 day races wins: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (2010 & 2011), Cholet (2011, 2013 & 2014), GP Dottignies, Gooik-Gooik, Le Samyn des Dames, Durango-Durango and Omloop van Het Hageland
Let’s add to the list that she has been number 1 in the UCI ranking (2013), she has achieved 40 professional victories plus a long list of podium places and top-10 in the best races of the calendar.
Quite impressive. Not in vane she has been called “Miss Consistency” by her Wiggle-High5 team. Unfortunately, we never saw her accomplishing two of her biggest goals: winning Tour of Flanders and wearing a rainbow jersey.
But Emma’s best achievements go beyond the “dry” numbers and statistics.
Is Emma’s style on the bike studied in cycling schools as a model to imitate? I doubt it, but it should. It is simply perfect. Watching her ride her bike along flats, climbs, cobbles, sprinting or descending is a pleasure for the senses. Her elegance on the bike has no parallel, men’s or women’s. Just once I saw her loosing (just a bit) her circular fluidity when pedalling. It was in Plouay, edition 2015, when a hard attack from Lizzie Armitstead made her suffer to the point she lost her flawless style for some seconds. She finished second. That was painful to watch for several reasons I will explain now.
THE ETERNAL SECOND
Emma has been unlucky. Her career to the top has developed parallel to the greatest of all times: her good friend Marianne Vos. I have doubts the well-known sayings “2nd is the best of the mortals” or “a 2nd that tastes like a 1st” can be applied to the big champions. Particularly when, as in the case of the Dutch, she has been beaten plenty of times in different scenarios. What I mean is that Marianne combines legendary races with legendary defeats, like her long list of 2nd positions in World Championships.
In more recent races, Emma has also crashed against emerging stars like Van der Breggen, Armitstead or Ferrand-Prévot. Especially painful are two of her 2nd positions in this 2016: De Ronde (against the British) and her silver in Rio (against the Dutch). As I pointed out earlier, she could never wear a rainbow jersey, and it is difficult to imagine someone who deserves it as much as she does. Even being the strongest, like in 2010 or 2014, the rainbow slipped away …
Yes. We agree. The doses of intense drama are always huge when Emma is around.
Another of the unique features that make Johansson such a special rider is that she has ridden alone most of the times. Whether she is riding for her trade team or for the yellow and blue of the Swedish flag, we had the feeling no mate could catch up with her. Moreover, after so many years witnessing this absence of team-mates in the key moments of races, we’ve seen how Orica-Ais started to work as a team precisely when Emma left, in 2016. Coincidence? Maybe yes, but Emma herself told us that being alone is not only part of her style of racing, she likes it this way.
We will always wonder how many more races she could have won if she had had more team-mates around her. We always had the feeling she had to spend way too much energy before the crucial moments. Could that explain her long list of about-to-win-races? That will remain a mistery.
PROFESSIONALISM AND RESPECT
Elegant on the bike and elegant off the bike. Never an excuse for not winning, always respect for the others. I have never seen any rider who praises her rivals as much as Emma does. She always talks of her rivals with admiration and sheer respect. And nobody has ever said any negative words regarding the Swedish. In addition, she is one of the most admired cyclists amongst cyclists. On the other hand, she is regarded as being extremely professional. In fact, Rochelle Gilmore – Wiggle-High5 manager – has said she is the most committed rider she has ever met. She moved to Belgium years ago to become more familiar with the terrain and atmosphere she loves, the one of the spring classics. Sadly, she could never win Flanders, where she lives and has got an army of followers. Nearly the same as in the Basque country, where she spent her first years as a rider, those which are not in the records.
Emma has visited plenty of podiums, so we have had chances to see her often up there. The list of her melancholic faces is endless. I always thought there is a sort of sadness in northern European people. Perhaps the particular light conditions affect the genetics. Perhaps she is too much of a perfectionist and she is always troubled by “I should have done it better here and here …”
Whatever it is, it is worth noting that every time Emma visits a podium, THAT face is there. Like a fate we cannot avoid, like a planet that will crash no matter what we do. Haven’t you seen Lars von Trier’s Melancholia? Stop reading and watch it straight away. It is one of my favourite movies of all times and, irrevocably, it takes me to Emma Johansson.
THE FUTURE: EMMA AS A COACH?
The dystopia of Qatar’s World Championships has witnessed Emma’s last race. The 33 year old planned to leave the professional competition a long time ago, when she left Orica-Ais and signed for Wiggle-High5. A 2 year-contract made of 1 year of full-calendar competition and a 2nd of part-time dedication as team-assistant, mentor, marketing, coaching and the like. Consequently, a great chance for the younger members of the team to learn for one of the best cyclists in history. This more relaxed schedule will bring the perfect timing for raising a family (she wants to have a baby as soon as possible) while still being part of the women’s cycling world.
Only time will tell if the call of becoming a D.S. sparks in her, whether it is in Wiggle-High5, the Swedish national team or any other. I am positive her professionalism and charisma are master keys to open plenty of doors, and as the proverb states: “one door closes, two more open”.