Cycling: First London medallist is on road to gold in Rio

Lizzie Armitstead.
Lizzie Armitstead.
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At the start of Britain’s golden summer of sport was a silver in the pouring rain for Lizzie Armitstead, who is aiming for better four years on in Rio.

The 26-year-old cyclist from Otley was the first British medallist of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, yet she was not satisfied with silver in the women’s road race on The Mall.

Armitstead has longed for more and won gold at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, but her quest for the world champion’s rainbow jersey she covets has been thwarted.

Her seventh-place finishes in the Road World Championships in 2011 and 2014 remain her best yet.

“It’s all I want, to be world champion,” Armitstead said.

“I’m at a stage now where every year could be my year.

“I’m an all-round cyclist and when I’m going well I’m one of the best in the world. Every year’s an opportunity.”

Armitstead will assess the Richmond, Virginia course for September’s 2015 Road World Championships in June.

She will also visit Rio de Janeiro in August to see the Olympics course first hand.

And, despite being eager to win a major global title, Armitstead is prepared to wait another nine months for gold in Rio ahead of victory in Virginia.

“I’d pick the Olympics,” she said, when asked if she would prefer world gold now or Olympic gold later. I’m going to do a recce of that in August. At first I wasn’t going to, but having sat down and thought about it, it’s good to get rid of any unknowns.”

Armitstead did much of the hard work in Ponferrada at last year’s World Championships by herself. She was the key protagonist in a move which should have been decisive, but the four leading riders failed to share the workload and were caught in a reduced sprint.

Shorn of the support of Emma Pooley, who retired after playing a key role in the Glasgow 2014 win, Armitstead was supported by Hannah Barnes, Anna Christian and mountain bike riders Annie Last and Alice Barnes.

The selection of Last and Alice Barnes was with one eye on Rio, where the pair may have to ride on road as well as off it.

Armitstead is hoping her British team-mates can develop to make the Olympic road race difficult and improve her chances of dethroning Marianne Vos, the London 2012 gold medallist.

“We did the best selection we could’ve done in Ponferrada with the riders we had available,” Armitstead added.

“A year’s a long time. Hopefully within that time, people like Hannah and Lucy (Garner, the two-time world junior champion) will develop into stronger riders on that kind of course. The thing that will benefit me is a hard race. I hope the selectors will pick strong people.”

Armitstead likes tough racing and tough races, and was less than enamoured when organisers of the three-day Tour de Yorkshire, a legacy of the county’s hosting of the 2014 Tour de France, put on only a short women’s race.

Armitstead made her displeasure clear on Twitter and in an exchange with British track colleague Elinor Barker said of the women’s circuit race which was staged. “It’s 80k... I’m not a junior”, she wrote.

“I was really jealous,” Armitstead said. “I think Yorkshire did a fantastic job, so it was a really positive thing for cycling in Yorkshire. (But) it was a support race, it’s not a women’s race. I can’t say to my professional team ‘sorry, I can’t do a UCI race because I want to do a criterium’. It’s not really worth talking about as an option.”

Lizzie Armitstead was speaking on behalf of Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries, a partnership between Yorkshire Bank and Cycle Yorkshire. For further information visit www.ybonline.co.uk/bikelibraries