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Coming off two tough years Emilia Fahlin talks about the importance of rediscovering the joy of riding her bike. Wearing a Swedish national champion's jersey goes some distance in that quest for happiness.


07.06.2014 @ 16:36 Posted by Tina Levin

2013 wasn’t the best year for the blonde Swede and Emilia Fahlin looks back on a year with more downs than ups. However, one important event sparked that glow she’d been lacking for a while and kicked her self confidence back into place.


“If I’m trying to find one good thing about 2013 then it has to be The Swedish Championships”, says Fahlin to “I never thought I’d win it. I don’t think anyone did. Emma (Johansson) was in such a great shape and I think everyone thought that it was a given already, that she’d win. So it was a big surprise not just to me, but to everyone I think.”


Beating a rider of Johansson’s calibre on the line isn’t  done easily and being able to do so at one of the most important events of the year helped getting Fahlin back into her winning spirits after a couple of tough years on the bike.


“It was badly needed proof to myself that I can still do this. I can still sprint and I can still win. And beating Emma isn’t easy, so it was truly a moment of both joy and relief. I needed that ray of light to build on in order to start a new chapter. It reminded me to never give up and it also allowed me to find my way back to being tougher in a finale. Dare to be up front, fight for position and actually believe that I can do it.”


It didn’t take long after Fahlin sprinted to victory until comments started appearing about her now being in blue and yellow and the responsibility of showing it off.


“I heard sarcastic comments like ‘Good luck with that’ and considering the past two years I had struggling on the bike I kind of get that reaction in one way, but the comments about Emma deserving the jersey didn’t really bother me. A championship is a championship and whoever crosses the line first will deservingly wear the jersey. I know that some people thought that Emma would be able to show it off in a better way, but I won it, fair and square, and I will continue to do my very best showing it off while it’s mine to show off.”


Despite being aware of comments doubting her ability to honour the jersey Fahlin still considers the pressure of being in blue and yellow more of a motivational pressure than a negative pressure.


“It’s an honour to be racing in it and it really just motivates me to try even harder. Of course there’s a bit of pressure and expectations, but I believe that comes mostly from myself and I try to use it in a way that sparks my motivation.”


Although she got a much needed ego boost during 2013, Fahlin still wished for the season to be over in order to start writing a new chapter while wearing her champion’s jersey. Before switching to Wiggle-Honda for the season of 2014 Fahlin was part of the Norwegian based team Hitec-Products. The easy going Swede points out that she got along well with the girls on the team, but felt she needed something new, so the switch to the successful Wiggle-Honda squad wasn’t a hard decision to make. Having had to deal with two tough years on the road one might wonder what the lessons learned are and what she’s doing differently this time around besides switching teams.

“I’ve learned that I need to focus more on details and also I need to break out of certain patterns and routines. I need to really know why I’m doing what I’m doing, not just training-wise, but also why I’m doing this at all. Is it because I’ve always done it, so I’ll just keep on doing it or is it because I love it and enjoy it? I had to sit down and think things through and I realized that my motivation wasn’t lacking because of a lack of love for the sport, it was lacking because of other things surrounding me. I needed a different kind of stimulation. A big part of finding my way back again has been to change my training a bit. I went to Australia this past winter for training and it might seem like a small thing to do, but it was completely new to me and really boosted my motivation. I had to see that there were still things I can do differently to keep stimulated and motivated although I’ve been doing this for a long time now. Basically, I just felt like I had to change things up a bit.”


It’s not an exaggeration when Fahlin tells us that she’s been doing this for a long time. The still young Swede from Örebro signed a contract with T-Mobile being just 19 years old and can already call herself a veteran amongst the pros. After some very successful years during which she stayed on the team which went through some different transformations and ended up being the existing Team Specialized Lululemon, Fahlin gradually started stepping down from the podium and made herself a name of being one hell of a domestique. The past two years, though, have left people who are aware of Fahlin’s qualities and capability wondering if she’s settled in too much being a great domestique, forgetting to use her full potential as a cyclist. Did she get too comfortable playing it safe?


“I actually think people were right about that. I think that’s where I’ve been stuck for the past few years. I started out being a good sprinter, but understandably being on HTC with some of the world’s best female sprinters it was hard to keep stimulating my own growth as a sprinter and that skill gradually started fading and I lost faith in myself. Sprinting is somewhat of an art form. There’s so much that needs to be in place and practiced on a regular basis and so much you need to be able to deal with all at once. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in being a great domestique, and I still do. I will always give 110% for my teammates, but I did realize that I had to get out of this comfort zone I was in in order to grow and use my full potential as a cyclist. Because that’s what I want to be able to say the day I hang up the bike; that I did everything I could and I got to see how far I could go, without having to look back and wonder what could’ve been. I need to get back to where I’m confident enough to take a chance and dare to fail until I get it right.”


Speaking of courage and being fearless brings back memories from when she won the GC at the prestigious Tour of Assen in her second year as a junior. She had lost the leader’s jersey the year before due to a puncture, but came back hungry for a win.


“Thinking back on it now it makes me proud to see how much I enjoyed myself and how brave I was on the bike. I was fearless and that’s what I need to be again. It’s just cycling, what’s to be scared of, really?”says Fahlin with a smile and a shrug as she sits quiet for a bit before adding;


“Joy. I have to find that very same kind of joy again and I believe that Wiggle-Honda’s helped me with that. They’ve gotten me back on track.”

In order to get back on track there are a few things that had to be tweaked.


“We’ve paid a lot of attention to details. Tweaking them to get that last bit of cream squeezed. Everyone’s training a lot, everyone’s training well, so you need to be specific and tend to details. If you’re supposed to do 5 hours on the bike in a certain heart rate, then stick to it, don’t start doing as you please, because there’s a reason to why you’re supposed to be doing this right now. There’s a thought behind everything. Be strict, precise and specific. Also I’ve been doing a lot more training on the stationary and a lot more training based on rpm’s and I believe it will help me to grow. You need to tweak those details. Nutrition, restitution. Everything.”


Being back on track surely means that she’s got some goals set for herself and she’s feeling confident working with team manager and team mate Rochelle Gilmore in order to achieve those goals. Gilmore’s values and drive are some of the qualities Fahlin really appreciates about her new colleague.


“My main goal at the moment is to get back to the level I was once at. Both mentally and physically and it feels good knowing I’ve got such a great team surrounding me and pushing me to go further. Rochelle wants to help me find my way back to my old self again. She looks to the individual and she’s not stressing progress. As long as she sees that I’m taking responsibility and doing what’s in my power to do, then she happily and patiently lets progress grow and show as it may. It feels good working with someone who’s had an eye on me for a bit and knows what I’m capable of doing and believes that I can still do it. I hope to get a couple of chances during the season, but I also know that we’ve got (Giorgia) Bronzini, who’s an amazing sprinter, so of course she’ll be a given in many races, but I do know that what you put into this team you get back at some point.”


Besides being a superb sprinter, Fahlin wants to highlight some other very important qualities held by Bronzini that has a great impact on the team.


“Bronzini is amazing in so many ways. Being a sprinter is a special trade and takes a lot of guts, you have to be tough and sometimes, not always, I think it reflects on your personality, but not with Bronzini. She’s confident in a way that allows her to focus on people around her while at the same time keeping her eye on the goal. She’s humble and takes great responsibility in making sure everyone’s ok. It’s easy working hard, sacrificing yourself for someone who’s not yelling at you and who shows appreciation for the work you’ve done. She cares about you on a deeper level that goes beyond the bike, while at the same time being professional about the job that needs to be done. She’s a great leader. The way she takes care of everyone even when we’re out on the road racing is truly admirable,” says Fahlin about the Italian two times world champion.


Fahlin’s careful at the moment to mention any specific goals. However, she does have a special kind of love for the Vårgårda World Cup, taking place in her native country on 22 and 24 August.


“Yeah, it’s a special race and one that I really want to do well in,” says Fahlin as a big smile appears on her face, before she continues. “But most importantly, looking back at 2014, I want to be able to say ‘Damn this was a good year! I’m back in action, actually being part of racing again and I’ve made a difference on the roads.’”


As a 21-year-old Fahlin claimed silver at the U23 European Championships ITT in 2009 and also went on to defend her silver the following year at her last ever U23 European Championships. Especially her silver of 2009 occupies a special place in her heart as it was a somewhat unexpected success.


“I had never been great at ITT, so it was a huge surprise. I remember Isabelle Söderberg crying with joy just because of something I’d accomplished. It was absolutely amazing and surreal.”


2009 – 2011 were some very fine years for the talented Swede  during which she took not only three National Championships ITT titles, but also claimed her very first UCI victory in Tour de L’Ardeche 2011 and went on to claim three more that very same week. Fahlin is all joy thinking back on those days of success and it’s easy to see that that’s where she’d like to be again.


“It was amazing when it just started rolling. I hope to experience that same kind of feeling again.”


As mentioned earlier 2012-2013 were two tough years for the Swede. During this period she didn’t really feel as if she was mastering any skills properly anymore. Fahlin failed to defend her National ITT title in 2012 and ended up placing third with Johansson on top of the podium. 2013 saw her distancing herself from that very same podium even more, placing fifth at the National ITT almost 3 minutes behind Johansson. Johansson,  known for being among those few cyclists being able to master almost any terrain she’s faced with, has slowly but surely sharpened her skills on the TT bike, bringing her even closer to being one of those few complete cyclists mastering all road disciplines. The World Championships in 2013 saw Johansson claiming her first ever top 10 at the ITT. Fahlin acknowledges the brilliancy in Johansson’s bike racing and skills and the fact that she’s just getting better and better at the ITTs while she herself is finding it harder to get back into the zone.


“It’s a lot more of a challenge for me these days, both physically and mentally. When I started performing poorly on my TT bike it just got stuck in my head and it’s been hard to recover from that. Also, it’s not just enough being strong physically when doing an ITT, mentally you have to be all zoned in and it’s a tough place to get back to once you’ve got lost. I’ve actually never really been a huge fan of ITTs, but when I started doing well I also started enjoying them more. However, I’ll always be more of a road race kind of gal.”


Fahlin is not putting any extra focus on sharpening her ITT skills at the moment, instead she’s focusing solely on getting back to where she once was when she was someone to count on at the road races, believing that getting back on that level she’ll also get back stronger on her ITT bike.


“When I’ve gotten myself back on that level where I’m enjoying myself properly on the bike again then I can start working with more specific details for my ITT, but I need other bits to fall into place first.”


Making a conscious choice to go all in in order to get those bits and pieces to fall into place has been crucial for Fahlin and she’s now doing things with more determination than ever before.


“When my roomie decided to quit cycling last year a lot of thoughts and questions were raised and I started thinking a lot more about what I really wanted to do. I realized that doing something half way would be a lot more devastating to me than to quit and do something else wholeheartedly, but I didn’t feel like I was ready to let go of this part of my life just yet, so I simply decided that I had to do this wholeheartedly or quit. And so here I am.”


In the last part of our interview with Emilia Fahlin, she’ll take us through her early years as a professional and share some of her eye opening moments with us.


“It was like an alarm just went off inside my head and I started thinking about things I never really thought too much about before.”



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