Where are they now? Emma Johansson “is the best of me”
If you followed women’s cycling in the late 2000s and 2010s, you’ll remember Emma Johansson as one of the most successful riders of her generation. The Swedish rider had a brilliant career, winning several World Cup races like Trofeo Binda and Ronde van Drenthe; she has won no less than 61 victories during her career and holds an impressive 14 national titles. Johansson excelled in tough week-long stage races like the Giro Donne, Women’s Tour, Thüringen Rundfahrt, Ladies Tour and Emakumeen Bira.
But it wasn’t just Johansson’s victories that made her a star: her many podium finishes further testify to her consistency and position in the women’s cycling peloton. Johansson holds two Olympic silver medals, one from the start of his career in 2008 and one from the end in 2016, the year of his retirement. She has also been on the podium three times at the World Championships.
Johansson retired in his prime and currently lives in Norway with her Norwegian husband, former pro Martin Vestby. She is a mother of two, son Morris and daughter My, with their third child due in June.
“When I retired in 2016 it wasn’t an option to take maternity leave like it is now. Now you can have a child and leave the return open like, for example, l Chantal van den Broek-Blaak announced. On the other hand, I really wanted to be a mum and be there for them all the time. It’s pretty damn hard work, though,” she says in a distinctive Aussie accent, a memory of his years on Orica-AIS and Wiggle.
“I had a contract for 2017 with Rochelle Gilmore from the Wiggle team which was good because I could still be part of the sport and move on to a more normal life. It took us some time to design so to have this financial security was nice,” Johansson continues. “I did some sponsorship work that year and also started doing ‘World’s Best Me’ talks. It’s about my career and how I’ve changed through it. I was going from always competing against everyone to competing to be the best version of myself. It was good to stop focusing on competition after so many years and be the best me in my new life.
In 2017, Johansson was also invited to start as a commentator on Swedish television for the world championships in Bergen.
“I drove to Bergen and did a reconnaissance of all the courses. I felt really bad because I was ten weeks pregnant, but it felt good to give back to cycling with the comments, the discussions and sponsorship tasks this first year without a bike.
Johansson provided commentary from the Stockholm studio. When she had only one child, it was doable with the trip, but when her daughter arrived, it became more difficult. Her husband is the athletic director of the Jayco-BikeExchange women’s team and often absent, so Johansson began looking for other options.
“I phoned Norwegian channel TV2, which is the cycling channel here, and told them I was interested in cycling commentary – if they needed me they could call me – and they did it in 2021. I have to do a lot more than women’s racing. comment. I also did part of the Tour de France as a studio expert doing race analysis. I don’t know enough of the men’s peloton to comment on it, I think. There are so many more riders,” she smiles.
Johansson likes the combination of commentating women’s races with former pro Thea Thorsen, as well as doing race analysis and on-camera presentation work for men’s races.
“I think having me participate in some of the men’s races also raises the profile of women’s sport. It attracts some of the male sport fans to female sport,” Johansson said. “I hope to do it full time in the future, but [with soon-to-be three kids] I don’t really have time to work full time.
Johansson works in his mother tongue Swedish, in English on the Tour of Norway (now Tour of Scandinavia) and in Norwegian. It’s an incredible feat that she humbly loves to tone down.
“Norwegian and Swedish are like Flemish and Dutch,” she explains. “It’s really quite similar. I call my language Sworsk [Swedish and Norsk] and it works well,” she laughs. “At school, the children learn Norwegian, but they add some Swedish words. The pronunciation is the big difference between the two languages.
One of the big races that Johansson will commentate for Norwegian TV is the Women’s Tour de France with Zwift.
“My third child will be one month old so I can’t be there in France, but I really want to succeed in this job. I don’t want to miss it,” says Johansson. “The development of the sport is going so fast at the moment. It’s so incredible. We felt the Tour de France Women coming. We had La Course and then Paris-Roubaix. If someone had told me that the Tour de France Women would take place in 2017, I would have done another year, but no one could make me run longer than that extra year.
When Johansson raced, only a handful of runners could make a living from their sport. A rider like Ellen van Dijk, for example, started her career in 2006 on just €200 (USD 210/AU$296) a month. Times have changed rapidly – today the women’s peloton has over 200 riders earning a living wage.
“Professionalization in women’s sport is going fast. If you now hear what women are doing… I’ve always run with my heart, but now runners can make choices based on sustainable living and run another year for income.
Working in sports broadcasting herself, Johansson sees what the visibility of sports does to its development. Creating even more exposure with live TV is key.
“The next step is an even higher quality broadcast of all the races. It has to improve,” says Johansson. “Prize money is another thing, but more broadcast time will lead to more revenue and more prize money. The quality of the squad is getting bigger, the teams are getting more professional every year and we hope to have a separate U23 category soon. at the World Championships. I don’t think there’s enough depth yet for many more separate U23 races, but it’s happening and it’s going fast.
Men’s cycling has had a real head start on the development of women’s sport, but the two sports also have a very different character. Working in both men’s and women’s races, Johansson sees the differences.
“On TV, we always start the broadcast on the women’s race final when all the running moves have been done. This is typical of women’s races – they are shorter and more aggressive. They start running from mile zero and as a commentator and viewer you try to make sense of that when the live stream starts,” she laughs. “It’s a difference compared to the men’s races. When I was still a professional driver, I could use the start of the men’s race as recovery because the final starts much later. You can take a nap.
Johansson has long been one of the only Scandinavian stars. With the addition of the Uno-X Pro cycling team to the Women’s WorldTour this year, alongside the long-standing continental-level Hitec team (currently Team Coop-Hitec Products, established in 2009), women’s cycling level Scandinavian rises.
“It’s so important to have Uno-X, especially for Norwegian women. They have a men’s professional team and a women’s team, and have complete equality. The team offers young Norwegian cyclists a way to make a living on the bike and also creates role models for the next generation,” Johansson enthuses. “Scandinavian riders now have the option that the Dutch have had for years: if you are good, there is now a safe and professional space to go to the highest level.”
There have been many second and third place finishes in Johansson’s career, but she looks back on her time in the professional peloton with satisfaction and doesn’t dwell on the many non-wins. It took time, she said.
“I only have a few regrets now,” she says. “There are a few races that I could have really won, for example when I was third at the World Championships in Geelong in 2010. If I had had the racing experience that I had later in my career , I would never have sprinted. outside of Vos, risking her closing the door to the fence. It was my biggest chance to become world champion.
“At the 2016 Olympics, I got a silver medal [her second after Beijing 2008] and I’m super proud of it. The only thing that touches me [is] that I didn’t dare to make a plan for the final,” says Johansson. “The only plan I had was for the climb – that was where I could lose the race. I didn’t want to focus on the finish and have a plan ready for that sprint because I didn’t know I’m going to make it. I pass out in the sprint. It’s one of those “what if I…” or “maybe” moments.
Johansson is now 38 and reflects on his career with great maturity. The sport for which she left home when she was only 15 brought her a lot.
“I come from a country where I became a cyclist against all odds. It is a country where cross-country skiing and winter sports are important,” says Johansson. “I am proud of my career. I’m proud of how I’ve done my last three years, because I’ve grown as a person. I started to appreciate all the little things. When you’re younger, you’re always hungry and it’s hard to enjoy it when you’re in it. I’ve tried to take advantage of the moment in recent seasons.
As a mom, Johansson has a lot of life lessons she wants to teach her children. She is happy with her life as a professional cyclist, but admits she would prefer her son to focus on off-road disciplines if he ever decides to pursue a career in cycling, as the streets are a dangerous place. “Sport has been a blessing in my life, and I wish Morris would experience the same,” says Johansson.
As for her daughter My, Johansson dreams of the day when she can ride a bike.
“My was born with Down syndrome two years ago and even though she won’t be competing in the Olympics, I hope she can be the best version of herself and achieve her goals in life,” Johansson said.
Johansson carried his philosophical outlook from his run until his retirement, and it continues to help shape his family with itself.
“As an athlete, I have never been afraid of change. When I was not happy or satisfied, I always tried to change to find happiness. You know what you have and you don’t know what you get, but I’ve never been afraid of this stranger,” she says. “You have to take responsibility for your own career and your own happiness. It’s about putting energy into things that you can change and leave the things that you can’t change.