For Emma Johansson, 2017 is a year of transition. Two-time Olympic road race silver medallist, she has stepped out of the saddle to become a mentor to the younger riders on her Wiggle-High5 team.
Despite some strong performances last season and being aged just 33, the 15-time Swedish champion feels the time has come to hand over to the next generation of racers.
It means missing out on one of her favourite races, the Tour of Flanders, where last year she finished second on the line after a nail-biting two-up breakaway with eventual winner Lizzie Armitstead.
Rouleur podcast host Ian Parkinson spoke to Johansson at the team’s March training camp in Majorca – supported by team sponsor and number one international cycle retailer wiggle.co.uk – to find out about the transition and her enduring love affair with Flanders’ Finest.
Emma, how does it feel to be out of the racing environment this spring?
It’s very different for me to be in this situation, but I feel really ready for it, it’s something that’s just grown on me for the last year. I’m actually happy about it, you know?
I love the life I’ve been living for the last ten years but all good things come to an end. And this is just a new good thing that’s beginning. I’m still riding my bike, I have opportunities to race if I want to, but I’m more here for the others, more like a mentor for the girls.
So not a directeur-sportif but more a guide and advisor for the other racers? That’s quite an unusual role in a team isn’t it?
Yes, you don’t see it that often. Former athletes or top riders become trainers or directors, but just to be available and to be able to pass my knowledge on to the girls is a really privileged situation for me.
It seems to be sometimes it’s my role in life to come second
I think I see a lot of myself in my team-mates, especially the younger ones. How hard it is to become professional, how hard it is to do the training… the younger girls need to be reminded that they’re doing the same rides and training as the girl who won Strade Bianche a couple of weeks ago or something.
It’s nice for them to know, and hear it from me, that everyone has been in their situation, where they’re growing as riders and challenging themselves. The girls appreciate hearing that from someone who is next to them on the bike – although sometimes I may be a bit behind because I’m suffering as well. But I do have all that experience and it would be a waste of that knowledge not to help these girls.
And have the younger riders reacted well to it?
I think so, I was a bit scared that I wasn’t going to be needed or would be in the way. But it’s been very positive so far.
Normally at this time of year you would be in full preparation mode for the Tour of Flanders. In many ways that was your race, the one you did well in and came agonisingly close to winning last year.
Agh! I’m still super proud about that race. I know I was second, but it seems to be sometimes it’s my role in life to come second [Johansson has finished second in two Olympic Games road races, two Tours of Flanders, two overall World Cups and three editions of Flèche Wallonne – Ed.]
It’s like the whole of Belgium is just breathing cycling, they’re breathing cobbles
It was just so close and I rode that race so well. It could have tipped the other way, but it didn’t… but I’m still happy about the way I rode it and how the team rode with me.
What was it about the Tour of Flanders that was so special to you?
It’s just amazing, the whole thing. You can’t explain it, you just need to live it, you need to go there, you need to be there to get what everyone is talking about. It’s not only about the race day itself, it’s about the whole week beforehand. It’s like the whole of Belgium is just breathing cycling, they’re breathing cobbles. I love it.
I had the privilege of being in the centre of everything. I always stayed in Zingem, and still do when I come back, which is six kilometers more or less from Oudenaarde, so I’m living on the course. The women’s Ronde passes right by my front door. So it’s not just the World Championships of the Spring, it’s my home race.
So how’s it going to feel when the girls are getting ready for this year’s race and you’re not riding with them?
Ah…..I have no idea. I know that the way my form is at the moment, I’d have no reason to be at the start. And that’s a good thing. If I was in better form and thought maybe I could be doing something in the top five, I know that I would feel different.
I know that I can play a role in the preparation that we’re busy with at the moment – and I think that helps me a lot as well. I’m not going to be racing, but I’m going to be in the saddle with the girls, passing on my energy to them and helping them to prepare for success. I won’t be riding with them but I’ll definitely be with them in my mind.
I’m actually looking forward to just following them. I loved doing that at Het Nieuwsblad. I was scared before that I was going to feel – oh, you know, like ‘I can’t be bothered, I don’t care any more,’ but oh my God, I’ve never been so excited about a race before. And I’m pretty sure that Flanders is going to be something like that.