Watching brief for Armitstead as Cavendish out to strike gold

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Lizzie Armitstead will be a keen viewer of the Olympic men’s road race today as Mark Cavendish goes for gold.

With her turn to come just 24 hours later, Otley’s Armitstead and her team-mates Nicole Cooke, Emma Pooley and Lucy Martin will watch from their hotel room as the men’s team aim to get the British medal rush off and running.

Cycling is enjoying huge popularity at the moment thanks to the exploits of the track team at the last Olympics, and Bradley Wiggins in winning an historic first Tour de France for the nation last week.

Wiggins, Cavendish, Chris Froome, David Millar and Ian Stannard are a tight-knit group of riders whose teamwork will prove crucial up Box Hill and on The Mall today.

And 23-year-old Armitstead insists that the women’s team unity is just as strong, despite the farago over her public falling out with Cooke last year.

Following last September’s world championships, Armitstead, having finished a disappointing seventh, accused fourth-placed finisher Cooke of riding “for herself”.

Armitstead had been the nominated leader, whereas today there is no designated spearhead.

The two insist the incident and comments are behind them and are optimistic of success in tomorrow’s 140-kilometre road race, which features two ascents of Surrey’s Box Hill.

Armitstead said: “I’m used to the team dynamics question, but I can’t stress it enough – genuinely we will work as a team, I’m really confident in that fact.

“I’m looking forward to it. Other nations are looking at us and are worried about us, which is a good position to be in.

“There’s no obvious tactic for us. No-one’s going to underestimate Nicole Cooke or Emma Pooley or me and then you’ve got Lucy, who potentially could surprise as well. I think we’ve got a well-rounded team.”

The tactical options Great Britain can deploy are seen as an advantage in a hectic race difficult to predict.

Britain favour a fast and aggressive approach to whittle down the contenders and should Armitstead be in the front group through Richmond Park and heading towards The Mall, she will be supported to go for the line.

“I have waves of nerves, but the general feeling is excitement,” said the former Whartons School pupil, who will be supported by Martin throughout the day.

“I’m just thankful it’s here now. I can’t change it now. I’ve got the form I’ve got and I’ll just have to use it to the best of my ability on Sunday.

“I’m not sure what to expect.

“It’s my first Olympics and it’s a smaller bunch than I’ve ever ridden in before, but a more competitive bunch.

“All the best girls are there,” she said.

“It will be an interesting race. I’m happy enough to ride off instinct and not worry too much beforehand what’s going to happen.

“The harder the race, the better for me.

“I’ve got a fast finish, but it helps if the race has been hard, especially over the climb.

“I can climb better than most sprinters can, so that would be ideal for me.”

Armitstead was a key component of the British team which helped Cooke to victory in the 2008 World Championships, just a few weeks after her Olympic triumph by the Great Wall of China.

The 29-year-old from Swansea has struggled for top form of late, but is set to be given a free role in the race by women’s road coach Chris Newton, who will deploy six ‘spotters’ around the course to relay tactical information to his team.

Cooke said: “I’ve been thinking about this Olympics for a very long time. I’m happy with how my training’s gone and I’m just so excited.

“As the GB team we’re perhaps not the favourites, but we’ve got a definite chance of winning or getting a medal. It’s very much game on.

“We’ve got four riders who could all take on the leadership role as the race develops and evolves.

“We know we can all rely on each other in the race.

“It’s a good position going into the race.

“We will watch today to see if Cav can do it, and also to try to take in some of the details of the course and make sure everything’s totally fresh.”

Up to one million people are expected to line the route for tomorrow’s race which begins at midday.

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk