Armitstead and Cooke can do their bit for girl power
Come what may this afternoon in The Mall, Great Britain's chances of a first Olympic gold in a road race do not begin and end with Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and Co – the women's equivalent event tomorrow represents another massive opportunity to get the winning feeling going for GB. And unlike the men's team, history is on the women's side.
Four years ago in Beijing's women's road race, Nicole Cooke (above) let rip with a huge roar of delight as she outpowered a small breakaway group in teeming rain unleashed the avalanche of GB cycling medals.
Can this happen again? Cooke's race condition is said to be improving steadily despite the Welsh woman having no major victories under her belt this year and only one last season – a stage of the women's Tour of Italy – but her low-key approach path to London, saving her strength for the Games, was the same strategy that served her so well in Beijing.
She can count on stronger back-up too: unlike in Beijing, where three British women took part in the road race, this time round there will be four.
However, given the likelihood of the race being decided by a large peloton rather than half a dozen breakaways – which would be more Cooke's cup of tea – then Yorkshire's Lizzie Armitstead, currently Britain's fastest sprinter, is the natural home contender, meaning the team is taking a two-pronged approach to tomorrow's 140-kilometre event.
Mention sprints and road-races in the same breath these days in Britain and there are instant expectations of success on Cavendish's level.
But although women's national trainer Chris Newton is keen to play down comparisons between Armitstead and Cavendish, both riders' track backgrounds – Armitstead dropped her velodrome racing, where she was part of Britain's World Championships Team Pursuit line-up in 2009, specifically to target London's road event – and formidable sprint abilities are undeniable.
However, while Armitstead is not outright favourite like Cavendish, something which perhaps only a World Championships win would have ensured, on a good day the 23-year has the tactical nous and power in her legs to outpower the world's fastest. Those due to give her a run for her money include Ina Yoko Teutenberg, the veteran German sprinter who regularly snaps up to two dozen races a year with relentless ease, classics specialist Marianne Vos of Holland, and Italy's Giorgia Bronzini, world champion for a second year running last September.
Armitstead has more resources than just her sprinting. In April this year she won the Ghent Wevelgem Classic in Belgium, the inaugural version of cycling's most similar one-day race in terms of terrain to the London event – it has a very hilly mid-section, sandwiched between two very long portions of flat – with a 40km solo breakaway that took her rivals completely by surprise.
Option number three for Great Britain is Emma Pooley, whose liking for going clear of the pack alone is well-documented. However, the former world time trial champion and Olympic time trial silver medallist's light climber's build is not ideal for fending off a pack on the long, flat run-in to the Mall, meaning that in principle Armitstead (below) and Cooke are the more likely options.
While Cavendish and his team-mates have the memories of a faultless collective and individual performance in the World Championships last year to spur them on, last September's equivalent event for the women culminated in a very well-publicised spat between the two British riders. Armitstead accused Cooke of racing selfishly, and although both have resolved their differences and predictably insisted since then that the press made far too much of it, should there be any lack of co-ordination, then the row will be dragged up again.
Should either of them complete tomorrow's Olympic race with their arms raised high in The Mall, however, the events of last autumn will be the last thing on anybody's mind.
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