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Lizzie Armitstead: I can’t retire happy without having been world champion

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Photographs: Simon Wilkinson

Lizzie Armitstead will target victory in the World Championship road race next season after admitting that she would not be able to retire with satisfaction without pulling on the rainbow jersey.
The 25-year-old, who this season was crowned winner of the season-long UCI Women’s Road World Cup having worn the leader’s jersey in each of the nine rounds, said results mattered more to her than consistency.
Armitstead was well-positioned to win the world title this year after finding herself in a leading group of four in the closing kilometres of the 127.4km race in Ponferrada, northern Spain. But the Commonwealth Games champion and her small breakaway, containing defending world champion Marianne Vos of the Netherlands, inexplicably failed to react when pursued by an elite group in the closing kilometres, leaving French woman Pauline Ferrand-Prévot to sprint to victory.
Lizzie Armitstead won the women’s World Cup this season, but said she valued results over consistency and would target victory in the world road race championship. pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com
“I’d like to be world champion,” Armitstead told an audience at a gala dinner to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Dave Rayner Fund. “I’ll never be able to retire happy unless I’ve been a world champion. That’s one of the main goals.”
The Otley rider will also target victory at the women’s Tour of Flanders next season, having finished second behind her Boels-Dolmans team-mate Ellen Van Dijk this year. Armitstead said she believed she was strong enough to win this year’s race over the Flandrian cobbles, but had played a team role, repaying the loyalty shown by the former world time-trial champion.
“I’d really like to win Flanders; that’s my dream race,” said Armitstead. “My team-mate won it last season. I was stuck behind feeling really good, thinking, ‘I want to win this race’. It just meant that my dream has had to wait another year. Ellen has been a fantastic team-mate to me and we all know that it is just cycling. I’ll just have to make sure that I’m in that kind of form next year and go in and do it.”
Armitstead hit the ground running in what has been her best season on the road, winning the opening round of the women’s road World Cup, the Ronde Van Drenthe, in March. She ascribed the victory to a comprehensive winter training programme; one, she said, that had saved her from having to ‘chase’ her form when racing resumed.
“You just need to start the season well,” she said. “That’s what I learned from the previous season. If you start the season, and you’re not in good form, you’re just chasing it all the time. You never have the confidence to take a break, or have a lapse, or go out with your friends for a night. I just had the confidence to take rest when I needed it, basically.”
Armitstead didn’t hide her emotions when winning the women’s road race at the Commonwealth Games. She said she was proud of racing to victory in front of family and friends. pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com
She admitted that she had not realised she had worn the World Cup leader’s jersey at every round until reminded of the fact by Rayner Fund compere Anthony McCrossan, and revealed that her emotional response to victory at the Commonwealth Games, where she soloed to victory, had stemmed from pride at delivering the expected result in front of those who had supported her throughout her career.
“It was weird,” Armitstead admitted. “You think about this race over and over again in your mind and suddenly you’re 50 metres from the line and you’re solo in a race that you wanted to win for four years. I just felt proud of myself, I suppose. It was just really special that my friends and family were there to watch me; for me, that’s always very important. I felt proud that I could pay them back for all they’ve given me.”
A high-class field containing Tiffany Cromwell (Australia) and the newly-crowned Commonwealth Games time-trial champion Linda Villumsen (New Zealand) had no answer for the home favourite. Armitstead said she had wanted victory more than her rivals and had arrived in Glasgow as the strongest rider in the race, despite a bout of sickness in the build-up that left her feeling slightly below her best.
“It was the first race that I’d been to as the designated leader. Everyone was racing for me. That was quite daunting, but at the same time, I felt ready for it; I knew that I was capable of winning. It was the first time I’ve gone to a major competition and thought, ‘I can win this’. I knew I was the best and that was the first time I’ve ever gone into such a high competition knowing that.
Otley native Armitstead praised the work of the Dave Rayner Fund in providing young riders with opportunities and said she liked to support a local charity. pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com
“I didn’t feel good at that time. I’d had bad training days. I’d been sick running into it. But I knew that my 90 per cent form was still better than anyone else in the race, just because I knew that I’d sacrificed more. I knew that those people around me hadn’t trained as hard as I had, basically.”
The Commonwealth Games champion was one of a host of star riders among the 500 guests who attended the celebration of 20 years of support for young and talented riders at a dinner in Leeds.
Shipley-born Dave Rayner had raced in cycling’s top tier in the early 1990s when the ascension of a young British rider to the European front rank was almost unheard of. Rayner’s life was cut tragically short following an incident with a nightclub doorman, but his parents John and Barbara were determined that he would leave a legacy of inspiration.
Armitstead said she admired the support the fund gave to young people who, like her, had followed their dreams. “I was very fortunate that I was in a Lottery-funded system. I think that there’s a lot of talent that’s missed by the British Cycling system and there’s other ways to make it in Europe. The harder way is often the better way for young professional cyclists because you need to be able to make it to the top. It’s a really positive thing; especially for me being an Otley girl, it’s really nice to be able to come here every year and support a local charity.”
Click here to visit the Dave Rayner Fund website
Pictures used with kind permission of SWpix.com

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