With the Tour de France’s Grand Depart in Yorkshire this summer, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the first women’s Tour of Britain, cyclist Lizzie Armitstead is preparing for a massive year. The 2012 Olympic silver medallist caught up with LS Sport’s Ste Topping last Friday.
For many, Lizzie Armitstead will always be remembered as Team GB’s first medal winner at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, but this was only the beginning for one of Britain’s best cyclers.
This year looks set to be massive for the Otley Olympian. As well as the Grand Depart to look forward to in her home county, Armitstead is also set to compete in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer, and the Tour of Britain in May.
With so much to look forward to, preparations have been hectic, but so far successful. “Training’s really good, just got back from a training camp in Gran Canaria, been there for 10 days with my brother. He’s just an amateur cyclist but he’s good enough level to train with and it just means that I kind of get a nice relaxed training camp.”
It’s fair to say that Armitstead’s idea of ‘relaxed’ is different to most people’s. At the talk she participated in last Friday evening, hosted by uTravelActive, she told around 500 fans about her blocks of intense training, involving nine days of riding and a day of rest every 10th day. “I don’t do much else other than ride my bike, rest and be really boring.”
Although she recuperates during the Winter, Armitstead takes advantage of the warm weather elsewhere to continue to push herself, so was it nice to be back home? “It’s nice to be back, I’m back for two days and then I fly out to a race. I’m only here for two days and it’s raining,” she laughs, before talking about her home comforts: “it’s nice to see friends and family but for training at the moment I’d rather be somewhere warmer.”
Armitstead admits that she feels guilty if she doesn’t train and she allowed herself no break for Christmas either. “I suppose the break is the fact that I let my diet go a bit with indulgent food, but I don’t stop riding, I did four hours training on Christmas Day.”
Armitstead will be participating on both the road and the track at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this year, and she feels confident she can do well. “I know what I’m capable of on the road, I know that I’m capable of winning gold.
“Track’s a little bit different as I’ve not done it for quite a few years now and the level has changed, there’s a lot more women who are elite level at track racing so I wouldn’t know what to expect there, but I’d like to be podium.”
With such lofty ambitions in both disciplines, surely training would be even more difficult for Armitstead? “It’s a challenge in the Olympic disciplines because they’re Team Pursuit and Omnium but in the Commonwealth Games the track is different, so it’s a points race and a scratch race, and they’re endurance events so you can train for the track and the road. It’s not the perfect combination.”
It is the road on which Armitstead prefers to race, she explained “the road is definitely where my heart is”, and this reflects the races she is most looking forward to this year. “The women’s Tour of Britain which is pretty exciting, first ever one. Five days, and it’s gonna be in the South of England which is a shame, but it’s good for me. And then again for the Tour de France coming I’ll be around to support that.”
She will certainly be supporting it, but women still have no version of the Tour de France, and Armitstead has been previously vocal about how women’s cycling needs to be treated more equally in line with men’s racing. She admits with the Tour of Britain some progress is being made. “I’m really happy [it’s] happened.
“I’m so grateful to the organisers and to the sponsors of that race because I think they are doing us a massive favour. At the same time I think they’re getting an opportunity and I think more people need to see that there is an opportunity in women’s cycling and supporting women’s cycling, because it’s a growing business at the end of the day. It’s a small step but I’m glad that Britain’s making the first move.”
Armitstead is still excited about the prospect of watching cycling’s biggest race in her home county. “I suppose that’s kind of a silver lining that there’s no women’s race, I’ll be able to enjoy it as like a bit of a punter and just be with my friends and family and soak up the atmosphere that it’s gonna bring.”
It’s a shame that she won’t be able to participate in it though and this is a situation that Armitstead doesn’t think will change anytime soon. When asked if she thinks there is a chance of herself participating in the Tour de France, she responds without hesitating. “I don’t think it will happen in my career. Not unless I carry on riding for 20 years and I’m not planning on doing that so. I hope so but not in my career.”
Undoubtedly the biggest moment in Armitstead’s career so far was the silver medal at London 2012, which saw her become the first Brit to win a medal at the home games. Did she feel a pressure to do so? “No actually, I suppose that’s another silver lining of being a woman you know, all the pressure was on [Mark] Cavendish.
“I kept myself out of Britain right until the very end, I only flew in five days before my race and that was into a hotel away from the media or anything, so I kept myself kind of hidden away from it. I think I was a little bit of an underdog, I don’t think there was that much pressure on me.”
This summer sees the Commonwealth Games take place in Glasgow and Armitstead believes there will be a unique atmosphere. “It’s a funny one, the Commonwealth Games, as an English person because you definitely see the patriotism of the Scots and the Welsh. I prefer to race in a British vest definitely.”
By the time of the Rio Olympics in 2016 the British vest may have lost some competitors to Scotland though, with the vote on independence taking place later this year. Would this affect competition in British women’s cycling? “It wouldn’t really have an impact for us. I don’t remember the last Scottish person in the British team so from a personal perspective I don’t know.”
Armitstead has been riding since she was talent spotted at the age of 16 and she admits she doesn’t know what she will do when she has finished. “I’ll wait until after Rio and then I’ll figure it out.” When she does eventually retire, Armitstead will be able to look back on an outstanding career in cycling.