Team Armitstead: Who needs Cavendish when you've got Lizzie?

 

We ranged from the merely curious to the fanatical in Richmond Park yesterday and all of us were soaked to the skin when lightning and police outriders announced the imminent arrival of the pros.

As Lizzie Armitstead zipped through in a group of three for the final push to the Mall, it was clear through the pouring rain that Britain was on course to win its first medal of the Olympics. The gap behind was too big.

Hundreds of us had arrived, mostly by bicycle, to watch Team GB ride at unseen speeds on roads that throng with amateurs every weekend. The crowds were thinner than they had been for Mark Cavendish's failed attempt to follow the script of these Games, but support would not be dampened. There was excitement, too, about women's road racing, and a hope that it could emerge from the vast slipstream created by the men.

Gemma Gronous and Samantha Hart had travelled from Hull with their large Union Flag. "It's such a shame there are so few people here compared to yesterday," Gemma said. "All women's sports suffer but if we do well today I hope people will wake up and take notice."

Rose and Simon McGrath and their four teenage daughters received almost as many cheers as the riders, dressed as they were in hooded Union Flag romper suits. "There's a huge focus on men's cycling at the moment but among our friends it's starting to pick up among the girls," said Rose, 48. "They deserve much more."

At the Roehampton Gate cafe, where cyclists flock every weekend as they ride laps of the park, Malcolm, Cyril and Jim, Lycra-clad friends in their 60s, followed the race on an iPad. They had spent yesterday watching the men. "The women are cycling far better than the men," Cyril said, before dashing outside to the course to catch the riders in the flesh. "This Armitstead girl's got a really good chance."

And then she appeared, her face splattered with mud kicked up by her rivals, on her way to a silver medal.

Paula Fine was drawn from her house nearby by the buzz. "When the Olympics are on you're excited by everything," she said. She had brought her daughter Ellie, 6, and sons Zeb, 4, and Dov, 18 months. Dov was more interested in the nee-nawing police motorbikes, but Ellie was in awe of the cyclists: "Zoom! They were so fast!"

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