Cycling: Armitstead rivals grit of Pendleton

Bronze completes medal set for 20-year-old and matches tally of Britain's Beijing star
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The Independent Online

Lizzie Armitstead completed her astounding debut in a senior World Track Championships with bronze in the points race here yesterday to bring a close to an uneven week for the Great Britain team.

The 20-year-old Armitstead was visibly tired at the end of a week in which she had already taken gold in the women's team pursuit and silver, despite a bad fall, in the scratch race.

Still recovering from her injuries, Armitstead started the points event in what she called "survival mode" – a peculiarly apt phrase for an event peppered with crashes, including one caused when a Russian rider clipped her back wheel. But, despite racing conservatively, her consistent sprinting and staying out of trouble earned the Yorkshire woman a third trip to the podium in four days.

"I wanted to roll with the wheels and roll with the points because I thought my strength would be to go for it at the end when the pure sprinters hadn't got so much sparkle." she said afterwards. "But I didn't have the legs to do it. When I woke up this morning, I felt really sick, my body had gone into recovery mode.

"So even if it's only bronze, given the circumstances this is probably the medal I value the most."

Armitstead's achievements on her debut paralleled those of Britain's established cycling star, Vicky Pendleton, who also left Poland with a gold, silver and bronze in her suitcase.

Even if she failed to make it through to the finals of her fourth event, the keirin, on Sunday, that failed to overshadow the way Pendleton had stormed to a third straight gold in the individual sprint less than 24 hours before.

Her victory over Willy Kanis, of the Netherlands, was taken by centimetres, rather than bike lengths as it was in Beijing, but Pendleton's flagging form was a tribute to her determination. And, despite Sunday's slightly flat final instalment, the 28-year-old's contribution to a up and down Great Britain performance this week has been nothing short of monumental.

The World Championships here – to which she came with absolutely nothing to prove – represented the very end of a racing cycle for Pendleton which started in October 2007, built up for the Manchester World Championship in March 2008 and then continued right the way through to Beijing and here in Poland.

"I don't think any other Olympic champion has repeated gold in their own speciality in the following World Championships apart from Vicky," pointed out team performance director Dave Brailsford.

"She's a real warrior."

For British cycling in general, the mood was one of regrouping and planning ahead under the long shadow of a superb Olympics, where they took seven golds on the track alone, preceded by a 2008 World Championships where they had taken nine of a possible 18.

"We definitely felt the weight of expectation here and we knew we were not going to reach it and that we'd better take that on the chin," Brailsford said.

"But the whole point of a peak," a reference to Britain's rampant performances in Beijing and Manchester – "is that you come down the other side".

He admitted that the danger of the imminent arrival of the British Professional road team – which starts racing in 2010 and aims to have a Tour de France winner in five years – "is that you could get sidetracked because it's new and exciting."

"But that's not going to happen, Brailsford added. "We've talked about that possibility and we had plenty of checks and balances."

Brailsford was keen to point out that the World Championships of 2009, with three and a half years to go until the 2012 London Olympics, were very much a testing ground.

And even without star riders such as Rebecca Romero, Sir Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins, Britain still managed to pull through for nine medals, third in the final rankings behind Australia and France.

"Lizzie's achievements were phenomenal, Shanaze [Reade, silver team pursuit medallist] has just been training for this for four weeks and three of the lads we put in for the team pursuit are barely 21."

Other highlights included a Madison where even if the double world champion, Mark Cavendish, and his new race partner, Peter Kennaugh, were kept out of contention for the medals because of a crash, the two rode what Cavendish called "technically the best I have ever ridden."

"We have had some very solid performances," Brailsford concluded, "even if it does hurt not being at the top. And the most important thing has been the learning for the future."

Pedal for medals: Britain's world haul

*gold (two)

Women's team pursuit: Lizzie Armitstead, Wendy Houvenaghel, Joanna Rowsell.

Women's sprint: Victoria Pendleton.

*silver (four)

Women's individual pursuit: Wendy Houvenaghel.

Men's team sprint: Matthew Crampton, Jason Kenny, Jamie Staff.

Women's team sprint: Victoria Pendleton and Shanaze Reade.

Women's scratch: Lizzie Armitstead.

*bronze (three)

Women's 500 metres: Victoria Pendleton.

Men's points race: Chris Newton.

Women's points: Lizzie Armistead.

Not a single track cycling gold medalist from the 2004 Athens Olympics went on to win gold at the following year's World Championships; Victoria Pendleton was the only 2008 Beijing gold medalist to find similar success in Pruszkow this month.

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