Weekend Interview: Dani King is out to topple cycling queen Lizzie Armitstead at Tour de Yorkshire

Dani King is aiming for the richest prize in women's cycling before helping to set Lizzie Armitstead on the road to Olympic gold. (Picture: Steven Jackson)
Dani King is aiming for the richest prize in women's cycling before helping to set Lizzie Armitstead on the road to Olympic gold. (Picture: Steven Jackson)
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Next Saturday, on the road from Otley to Doncaster, one of Britain’s most successful track cyclists will find herself in the rather unique position of trying to beat the woman she hopes later this year to ride in support of.

That is the conundrum facing Dani King.

2015 World Champion Lizzie Armitstead is favourite to win next week's Tour de Yorkshire women's race.

2015 World Champion Lizzie Armitstead is favourite to win next week's Tour de Yorkshire women's race.

For next week, she will ride the Asda Women’s Tour de Yorkshire in pursuit of the richest prize pot in the history of women’s cycling.

The rider she will undoubtedly have to leave in her wake to land the £15,000 first prize is Yorkshire’s own Lizzie Armitstead; the world champion, the poster girl of next week’s big race in her home county, and, based on form over the last two years, the red-hot favourite to land gold in the Olympic road race in Rio this summer.

King’s long-term goal is to be there by Armitstead’s side next to Copacabana beach, riding off the front for her, putting in the hard yards and sacrificing every ounce of strength she has to give the Yorkshirewoman the best possible chance of winning the only prize that still eludes her.

“I’ve made it very clear that I will give 100 per cent effort in support of Lizzie in Rio if I get there,” says 25-year-old King.

Dani King

Dani King

It is a campaign manifesto the Southampton-born cyclist has stuck diligently to ever since last summer, when the former track star switched her focus to the road.

A horror crash in November, 2014 that left her with a punctured lung and broken ribs, precipitated a change of direction that she does not regret for one second, even if it means there is to be no repeat of her finest hour in the Olympics.

Four summers ago, King was part of the team pursuit trio that won a dramatic and emotional gold medal in the white-hot atmosphere of the London 2012 velodrome.

Instead of replicating that on the boards in Brazil, King’s sole aim now is to get the final spot in the three-strong British team to support Armitstead’s bid for Olympic gold.

“With Lizzie a cert and Emma Pooley riding the time-trial and, therefore, getting a place in the team, there’s effectively only one spot left in the road race squad,” says King.

“I’m very much in the frame and I’ve had consistent results. And I’m more than happy now working for others.

“I’ve been working as a domestique all season for my team Wiggle High5, riding in support of girls like Emma Johansson, and they’ve been pleased with what I’ve done so, hopefully, I’ve shown enough.”

King appreciates she is ‘far from the finished article’ when it comes to road racing, but is at least developing a good body of work to support her push for the Olympics.

“It’s quite exciting for me though that I’m already at a high level,” adds King, who on Wednesday rode the Fleche Wallogne women’s race which forms part of the World Tour.

“My form is really good. It’s the best it’s been all year. This year is really my first of concentrating solely on the road with a proper winter training programme geared towards that.

“It’s a new challenge for me.

“When I was on the floor in the immediate aftermath of that crash, I said I’d never ride a bike again.

“But then, a couple of days later, I was on the gym bike in the hospital – I guess I could never lose that passion for cycling.

“Riding the track in London was incredible but the road is just completely different. There’s more race days so more opportunities just to get on the bike.”

Those opportunities are only going to get bigger and better for King and the rest of a women’s cycling fraternity yearning for equality in a male-dominated sport.

The £50,000 prize fund that sponsors Asda, and co-organisers Welcome to Yorkshire and the Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) have stumped up for next Saturday’s 135km race did not so much break through the glass ceiling in women’s cycling, as shatter it.

Already RideLondon have responded to the move by the ‘northern powerhouse’ with a jackpot of 100,000 euros (£78,847) for their equivalent women’s race at the end of the summer.

“I hope it does become a battle between race organisers, because that can only be good for women’s cycling,” continued King.

“The bigger the prize funds, the more often you’ll see the biggest names competing.

“And I hope that other big races follow suit with their prize money.

“The money the organisers have put up for the Tour de Yorkshire is an absolutely incredible figure. And it’s great to see the United Kingdom leading the way in terms of equality in cycling.

“The team I ride for, Wiggle High5, are very prominent when it comes to trying to build the profile of women’s cycling so it’s nice to head to Yorkshire to support this race.”

King would like nothing more than to put in another selfless shift off the front to show the watching Team GB selectors, and Armitstead, that she has the necessary qualities of a ‘domestique’, that £15,000 first prize is a tantalising prospect.

“It’s the richest single race I’ll have ever raced in,” says King, who showed her ability to win races at last year’s Tour of the Reservoir.

“Lizzie is always going to be hard to beat, but on my day I’m confident I can beat her and win races.

“We’ll reccy the stage on Thursday. If it looks like it will come down to a bunch sprint, then I won’t be in the shake-up, because bunch sprints aren’t my strength, and I will ride as a domestique.

“But if it gets splintered...

“I’ll give it my best shot. Lizzie is in incredible form this year, but it’s a bike race and anything can happen.”

A victory ride up South Parade in Doncaster would make it hard for British Cycling to overlook King, given she has already shown her Olympic pedigree four years ago.

But if it is not to be her hoisting her arms high over the handle bars, then King – like the cycling world – fully expects Armitstead to be climbing onto the top step of the podium.

“It’s at the stage now where Lizzie is one of the greatest road racers of all time. She stands alongside Marianne Vos and Nicole Cooke,” says King.

“The last couple of years she has shown that when she focuses on something she can go out and get what she wants.

“Lizzie will definitely be the favourite going into Rio. She’s shown that with her form this year in the world tour races.

“I’ve not ridden with her that often, but just recently I spent a bit of time with her training in Monaco and it was nice to get to know her personally, rather than just professionally.”

Come Rio, King hopes to be a professional pillar of support for Yorkshire’s cycling wonder-woman. But next week on the roads Armitstead knows better than anyone not to be surprised if Dani King has glory and the richest prize in women’s cycling on her mind.

Dani King is a Wiggle High5 team rider sponsored by www.wiggle.co.uk the world’s largest online cycling and tri-sports retailer