Lizzie Armitstead is relieved to finally be able to call herself a champion after leading an England one-two ahead of retiring team-mate Emma Pooley in a sensational Commonwealth Games women’s road race on the final day of Glasgow 2014.
Pooley, in her last race before switching to endurance triathlons, played a brilliant selfless role in the 98-kilometres event – seven laps of a 14km undulating course – and finished with silver as Armitstead triumphed.
The 25-year-old from Otley finished with silver behind Australia’s Rochelle Gilmore in Delhi four years ago and claimed Britain’s first medal of London 2012, with Olympic silver behind Marianne Vos of Holland.
Now she has the title she has long craved.
“I just feel like I deserve it,” Armitstead said. “I’ve trained so hard. I’m always on the podium, I don’t win that many races.
“It’s just a confidence thing. Once you’ve got a big title you can call yourself a champion finally.
“Hopefully it will bode well for the rest of the season.
“The psychologists tell you it should never be a relief when you win a race, but to tell you the truth, it is.”
Armitstead, a 2009 team pursuit world champion on the track, won the 2013 British title on the same Glasgow course, albeit with an extra lap, and was confident heading into the race, determined to shed her perennial runner-up status.
Pooley initiated the attack which led to the formation of a select group of seven riders on the fifth lap and continued to attack in tactics which played into English hands.
If she could go alone, she would; if she was chased, Armitstead was present.
Armitstead, who crashed out of contention in last Sunday’s La Course by Le Tour in Paris, had wanted a tough race and difficult conditions and the rain began to fall on the penultimate lap.
“I love the rain,” Armitstead added. “I was just thinking of my family. When the rain started I knew they’d all be thinking ‘yes, this is good for Lizzie’. A little smile came on my face and I just thought ‘yes, this is perfect’.”
Pooley attacked alone and Armitstead joined her on Great George Street before accelerating ahead alone at the point where she made her move in the British Championships, soloing to a stunning triumph, with a tearful Pooley 25 seconds behind.
Bronze went to South Africa’s Ashleigh Pasio in a photo finish ahead of Australia’s Tiffany Cromwell.
Armitstead had the support of a stellar team – Laura Trott, Dani King, Lucy Garner, Hannah Barnes and Pooley – but even followed early attacks on her own, perhaps to show she was feeling strong.
She said: “There was a couple of times when I asked the girls to put in a little dig, to see what it did to the peloton and it split the peloton to pieces and I thought ‘what’s up with everyone?’
“I was definitely on a good day. I just thought I’d tease them a little bit, see what they were capable of. That gave me confidence to do what I did on the last lap.”
Geraint Thomas, meanwhile, won a dramatic men’s 12-lap, 168-kilometre road race that included a puncture in the final 6km for Thomas after an earlier ‘mechanical’. But Thomas had enough of an advantage to win by one minute 21 seconds as Jack Bauer of New Zealand beat Scott Thwaites of England to silver, the Yorkshireman having to settle for bronze.
The Isle of Man’s Pete Kennaugh, who won the island’s only medal of the 2014 Games with points race silver on the track, had led on his own for 116 kilometres.