ARGUABLY Britain’s most in-form athlete has a Yorkshire date pencilled in her racing diary.
World road race champion Lizzie Armitstead, from Otley, will be on the start line when the women’s Tour de Yorkshire begins in the town on Saturday, April 30.
Armitstead has made an explosive start to the season, winning the opening two races on the women’s world tour, and is one of Great Britain’s brightest medal hopes for this year’s Rio Olympic Games.
Confirmation she will ride the 135km slog from the West Yorkshire market town to Doncaster is a major coup for organisers Welcome To Yorkshire, who have secured a title sponsor in supermarket chain ASDA.
Armitstead went to Prince Henry’s school in Otley and still lives in the town when she is not racing abroad. More than a month before the race, Armitstead flew into Yorkshire to provide a star presence at yesterday’s launch in York.
“They didn’t give me much chance not to turn up,” the 27-year-old said of this year’s race, which will build on the success of the inaugural event in 2015.
“It’s pretty crazy really. I didn’t realise until coming home last night and seeing leaflets on my mum’s kitchen surface about big screens up in Otley. My sister has got friends booking out rooms in her house. It is going to be quite a good feel I think.
“I am pretty pleased it is going to be starting in Otley and they’ve got a proper women’s race this year, which is good.”
Last year’s women’s race was around a circuit of York city centre. Armitstead felt it was not worth entering and was vocal in her criticism of the small-scale event. She was not involved in determining this year’s course, but feels the organisers have taken a step in the right direction.
“The only thing I did was complain to the media,” she said. “I have not spoken directly to any organiser, but it is good they’ve put on a stage.
“Obviously, I think the way forward is three days and, hopefully, that will happen in the future. But I would like to support the fact there is a proper stage this year.”
The prize fund for the women’s race is more than £50,000, making it the most lucrative in the world. The winner will receive £15,000, with £10,00 for the runner-up and £5,00 for third place. Prize money will go down to 20th place.
The prize pot is greater than that for the men’s race, which includes an identical stage from Otley to Doncaster later on the same day. According to Welcome to Yorkshire’s Gary Verity, a man winning all three stages and the overall classification will receive around 40 per cent less than the women’s winner.
The women’s prize for first place in Doncaster is more than three times what Armitstead won at last year’s Worlds. When she won the women’s UCI World Tour opener in Strade Bianche earlier this month she collected around £600.
“I think it’s good that if you put on a race you do it properly and it’s not just a token event,” said Armitstead. “If I am totally honest, I think that’s what last year was, a token event.
“I am pleased that this year they are doing it properly. They are putting equal prize money out there, inviting all the best teams and getting UCI (cycling’s world governing body) status.
“I think if you are going to do the job you should do it properly and that’s what they have achieved this year.”
Cycling has been on a high in Yorkshire since the Tour de France visited the county two years ago. Armitstead, Great Britain’s first medallist at the London Games, added: “It is huge now. When it first started I remember Otley Cycling Club was like an old fellas’ group who met at the third lampost on a Tuesday night, but now it is massive.
“They have a junior programme, the mini-fliers, my mum’s out every Tuesday night on rides in the dark.
“They even ride in the dark these days, it is really huge. You can’t go out on a Saturday without passing groups of cyclists.
“I am pretty proud of Yorkshire and the tradition and excitement they have around cycling. An event like the Tour de Yorkshire will be accepted and celebrated.
“There will be people complaining about the traffic, but there’ll be more people excited about the party in Otley watching the cycling race.”
Armitstead will be riding for Great Britain, who are among 14 teams in this year’s women’s race.