Commonwealth Games 2014: Lizzie Armitstead finally a champion as Geraint Thomas toils to take gold
Brits overcome Glasgow downpour to clinch double in dreadful conditions
Sunday 03 August 2014
For Lizzie Armitstead there was, at last, gold at the end of the rainbow. Two years ago, she had splashed across the finish line in London to claim Britain’s first medal of 2012 but it was silver. Two years before that, she finished with Commonwealth silver in Delhi but yesterday she finally struck gold on a day when the heavens opened over Glasgow.
It created appalling conditions for both the men’s and women’s road race, with only a dirty dozen of the 139 men who set out from Glasgow Green completing the course. Geraint Thomas was first home, securing a notable victory for a man who has just finished the Tour de France, and was the sole Briton to do so.
The weather was at its angriest during the afternoon as a bedraggled men’s peloton picked its way carefully around Glasgow’s slippery streets. The rain was a little more forgiving for the women’s race in the morning and as Armitstead pedalled around the last of the seven laps, the sun did its best to break through and a rainbow spread its colours across the sky.
The 25-year-old was a strong pre-race favourite but history haunted her, as to an extent did her form this season. It has been excellent, with 19 podium finishes, yet only three of them took her to the top step. This time she rode the perfect race and there was rarely any doubt as the climax approached who was going to finish first. Her team-mate, Emma Pooley, took silver 25 seconds behind after one last gutsy ride.
“It just means I can call myself a champion, not a runner-up,” said Armitstead. “This is something I have always dreamed about, it means so much to me. I am always a runner-up.
Lizzie Armitstead (right) beams after her victory beside Emma Pooley “I just feel like I deserve it. I’ve trained so hard. I’m always on the podium, I don’t win that many races. It’s just a confidence thing. Once you’ve got a big title you can call yourself a champion finally. The psychologists tell you it should never be a relief when you win a race but, to tell you the truth, it is.”
England had the strongest team in the field and Laura Trott, Dani King, Hannah Barnes and, in particular, the waspish Pooley set up their leader to bring home gold. Pooley was key, keeping the pace high throughout and continually unsettling the Australians and New Zealanders as they sought to claim some sort of control of the race.
“That was the best cycling teamwork I have ever been a part of,” said Armitstead. “It’s such a shame Emma is retiring today, it was a fantastic job from her and all the girls.”
If there was one rider suited to the conditions – which only increased the challenge offered by the course, with its variety of surfaces and tight corners – it was Armitstead. “I love the rain,” she said.
There would not have been a single man, emerging from the shelter of the marquees pitched along the start of the course to begin their race, who would have agreed with her. By the time it got underway, the conditions were horrendous. The rain eased at times but around the midway point, it came down even more heavily.
Beneath it, a dramatic race unfolded. Pete Kennaugh, riding for the Isle of Man and with the injured Mark Cavendish here as his sporting director, launched a spectacular early attack, riding away from the peloton. He was to lead for 116 of the 168km. For a time, he was helped by the heavy bursts of rain encouraging caution in his pursuers but it was a cycling suicide mission. He was certain to be caught.
Thomas, Jack Bauer of New Zealand and England’s Scott Thwaites were the ones who finally wore Kennaugh down and then left him behind. Now it was a three-way race for gold. Wearied by his tough Tour, Thomas knew his only chance was to spring a surprise attack and it came on the final lap with 11km to go. He broke clear on one of the brief but steep climbs and soon opened what seemed a winning lead. But there was one last piece of drama to come. With 6km to go, and a lead of around a minute and a half, Thomas suffered a puncture.
“When I felt that front wheel going down I was swearing, saying ‘what have I got to do?’” said Thomas. “It felt like an eternity for that wheel change. Luckily I had the legs to take it all the way to the line.”
By the end, the margin was back up to 1.21min with Bauer outsprinting Thwaites to bronze. Kennaugh came home eighth and David Millar, riding his last race in Scotland before he retires, was 11th.
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