London's regal quarter was a happier place yesterday. This, argued British cycling's performance director, David Brailsford, was silver won not lost gold. No arguments from this corner of The Mall. Elizabeth Armitstead could not have turned those wheels a nanosecond faster as she sped across the line a bike length behind Marianne Vos to deliver Britain's first medal of the Games.
No need for reproach. No backfiring plan to massage away. Armitstead hammered through the muck and spray of a filthy London day to hit the home straight with a medal guaranteed. That it turned out to be silver might have been decided on the toss of a coin. Vos, the favoured sprinter in this company, managed the fractions better to edge the day with Russia's Olga Zabelinskaya a distant third.
A shot at glory within sight of Buckingham Palace was where the British medal charge was supposed to start on the opening day of competition. Instead, our great hope Mark Cavendish perished in a failed attempt to control the race from the peloton. Cavendish was peddling around Belgium yesterday in a scheduled critérium. Just as well.
To watch Armitstead attack off the top of Box Hill, precisely the point instinct was telling him to jump, would only have salted Cavendish's wounds. He ended his day with a mean-spirited swipe at the BBC's sports editor, who wondered not unreasonably if the Tour de France had jeopardised his race. Armitstead's closed with a silver lining.
"I'm still a bit shell-shocked, to be honest," Armitstead said. "The disappointment of not winning gold is starting to settle in but silver is more than I could have hoped for. I'm very happy to be a medallist and the first for Great Britain. I have replayed the sprint about 15 times but Marianne is faster than me so there is no more I could have done. I knew when she got the jump that I had let my opportunity go. Just as she jumped I was about to go for it. I should have got in there a bit quicker. But if you know about Vos you know that she is the best on most circuits."
Roger that, said Brailsford. "That was a fantastic performance. In a race like that you need guts to commit to the move. Once you commit you know you have to stick with it. That is what she is all about, a very brave competitor and she got her just reward. We know how talented she is. That is her best road performance. Every now and again you get a breakthrough. I think that will be hers.
"She is tenacious, dogged, professional and very fast. You don't win a silver medal at your home Games with a lot of pressure on you without those characteristics."
Armitstead is armed with a keen intelligence, too, feeding an audience meeting her for the first time with all sorts of juicy titbits that are guaranteed to have her sitting on a morning TV sofa any day soon.
She revealed how at an early age she committed herself to a vegetarian diet. "I can't get my head around eating a corpse. My parents forced me to eat what was on my plate till I was about 10 years old. I have been a vegetarian ever since."
And how about this from her youth as a sports junkie? "I was the girl in every school team. I was always the one that made up the numbers. They even put me in goal because they were short but I was always letting in goals. Luckily, cycling found me and I was able to start winning."
There was also a nice line in feminist rhetoric with a broadside at the lack of backing for women's cycling compared to the men, despite the presence of three Olympic medallists in the road squad.
Nicole Cooke, winner of the women's road race in Beijing, and the time trial silver medallist from the same Games, Emma Pooley, both played their part alongside the fourth member of the British team, Lucy Martin, in getting Armitstead to the cusp of victory.
"I'm proud of the girls," Armitstead said. "As a group of women we all came together to produce a result. I was disappointed for the guys yesterday but today we got the medal. It is something that I will never forget. The noise from the crowd pushed us all the way to the finish and with the rain coming down it was good to see people still out on the course cheering us on."
None was cheering louder than Brailsford, who, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, loves it when a plan comes together. "It's Britain's first medal, which seems to be a tradition now for cycling," he said. "But this was not about us. That result was 100 per cent Lizzie's. She deserves all the credit coming her way. She has done herself and Britain proud today."
Lizzie Armitstead: factfile
Born 18 December 1988.
2004 Started cycling after talent identification programme visited her Grammar School in Otley.
2005 Won silver in scratch race at junior world track championships.
2007 Became under-23 European scratch race champion, successfully defending title the next year.
2009 In the world championships won gold in team pursuit, silver in Scratch and bronze in points race.
2010 Won two silvers at the world championships, in team pursuit and the omnium, and silver in road race at the Commonwealth Games.Reuse content