Lizzie going for gold before rainbow quest

Lizzie Armitstead is attending the Dare 2b Yorkshire Festival of Cycling, held 4-6 July 2014 at Harewood House, Leeds.
Lizzie Armitstead is attending the Dare 2b Yorkshire Festival of Cycling, held 4-6 July 2014 at Harewood House, Leeds.
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The Tour de France starts in Yorkshire next weekend, yet for one prominent cyclist from the region, it is not the race that dominates her thoughts.

While many of her county brethren fixate on where to stand to watch the peloton whizz past, or which Briton to cheer loudest, Lizzie Armitstead has plenty of reasons to have her focus fixed elsewhere – four to be exact.

For the 25-year-old Olympic silver medallist is bidding for quadruple glory in the final three months of the season, starting tomorrow with the defence of her British road race title in Wales.

After that, the primary focus of the year is the Commonwealth Games road race, which is followed by the conclusion of the season-long World Cup series – which she leads – and then the world championship road race in Spain at the end of September.

The rainbow jersey given to the world champion is the one that Armitstead is yet to slip into, but one she covets most as it is the only accolade missing from her glittering cv.

It has eluded her in the past for a variety of reasons – fatigue, illness, and even a dispute with team-mate Nicole Cooke one year – but even in this busiest of summers, she hopes to get her planning spot on to ensure at the very least she is at her best for the Commonwealth Games and the world championships.

“I’ve struggled to have the right form at the right time for the world championships in the past,” says Armitstead, who already has a track world title to her name.

“It’s difficult because it’s the last race of the season and everyone generally is quite tired so it’s about managing fatigue and making sure you’ve got something left.

“I’ve taken a bit more rest in the middle of the season this year, so we’ll see if that works.

“I’m training through from now, I’m not tapering at all. I need to make all these weeks prior to the Commonwealth Games count so I can’t afford to have an easy week before Glasgow.

“I’ll have a few days off the bike after the Commonwealths then go again for the worlds.

“It’s as much about being mentally prepared as anything else, to make sure you feel fresh, but I will have a small break.”

If she could only have one title this year, Armitstead would take the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

She was a silver medallist in the road race in Delhi four years ago, before emulating that feat, thrillingly so, with a buccaneering ride in the teeming rain at the London 2012 road race.

Moving up to the top step of the podium is the natural progression.

The one advantage she has over the rest of the British Empire field is that Armitstead knows how to win over the Commonwealth course in Glasgow on Sunday, August 3, having claimed the British title last year over the same course.

“Last year’s victory was special, especially with it being on the Commonwealth Games course,” adds Armitstead.

“It’s nice to have a win under my belt on that course.

“The Commonwealths is a different race compared to racing in Europe, the level isn’t as high, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easier to win.

“Sometimes it’s easier to get a result in a race when everyone is going full gas because it becomes more a case of who is the strongest rider rather than a tactical race, which I think it will be at the Commonwealth Games, so I’ll need luck as well as form for Glasgow. The course suited me, though, last year. The Commonwealth Games is a massive goal of mine so it’s good to know what to expect on that course.”

In Glasgow, Armitstead will be cocooned in a team of English riders, all of whom will be supporting her bid for gold.

Tomorrow in Abergavenny, she will be an isolated figure wearing the black and orange shirt of her Dutch professional team Boels Dolmans.

She has no English team-mates since the retirement earlier this year of Emma Trott, meaning if she wishes to retain the British title today over the 63-mile course, she will have to go it alone.

But that is a gauntlet the Yorkshirewoman is eager to pick up.

“I’m hoping the course is challenging because that makes it easier for me,” says the tenacious Armitstead.

“It’s a slightly shorter race than what I’m used to, it’ll be again more of a tactical race than an out-and-out strongest rider wins scenario.

“You’ll have a lot of the teams out there trying to beat me. It makes it much harder and especially if the course hasn’t got a defining climb in it where it’s easier to drop people off of your wheel if you’re on a climb.

“If it’s flatter, it’s harder for me.

“I want that challenge of climbs so you can isolate riders. Other teams might have sprinters who might not be able to follow you on a climb, so then you can get them one against one.”

Retaining her title and beginning her quadruple quest on the front foot would arguably be up there with anything she has achieved in cycling.

It would also mean the honour of keeping the white shirt with a red and blue hoop she has worn over the last year and held in the 12 months prior to the London Olympics.

“To win this year would be great,” she says. “It’s such a difficult race to win because it’s more tactics than how strong you are.

“It’s a great honour – I love wearing the national jersey. I represent Boels Dolmans at every race but when you’re national champion, it feels as though you’re representing Great Britain as well.”

Encouragingly for Armitstead, she arrives in Wales in excellent form.

Save for a finish in the pack at the inaugural Women’s Tour of Britain – when illness dulled the impact of a cyclist who has always taken pride in flying the flag for women’s cycling – Armitstead has turned in some superb performances this season that have put her at the top of the World Cup standings after five of the nine events.

She won the first race of the season, the Ronde van Drenthe, before backing that up with 
three second-place finishes that have given her a commanding lead at the top of the standings.

Selflessly, she hails the runner-up position in support of team-mate Ellen van Dijk at the Tour of Flanders, as her best of the year.

It is a sequence of results she admits that have taken her by surprise, and which have at least put her within touching distance of a first World Cup title.

She has three races in between the end of the Commonwealths and the start of the worlds to at least claim one of the four titles she covets.

Such a quadruple, particularly in the sporting shop window of a Commonwealth Games on relative ‘home soil’ would elevate Armitstead to the stratosphere of superstar in British sporting circles.

Not that she is one to court such publicity.

The Yorkshire lass resides in the sunnier climes of the south of France for much of the year, away from the spotlight and in the heart of the Alps and the Pyrenees where she trains and schemes and plots her way to repeated glories.