Gamble to split the pack pays handsomely for plucky Armitstead

 

The Mall

If Mark Cavendish discovered on Saturday that sometimes being favourite is a disadvantage, Lizzie Armitstead's relatively low pre-race profile yesterday was one factor that helped the Yorkshirewoman to silver. And another was Armitstead's decision not to rely on her team-mates to bring the winning break back into the pack – but to go with it.

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

For the first two hours as the race spluttered through intermittent downpours, Britain's four riders were close to the front of the main pack. But as they were not favourites they were never expected to take the race by the scruff of its neck as Cavendish, Wiggins and Co had been virtually obliged to 24 hours earlier.

Just like in the men's race, the crunch moment was on the final assault of the Box Hill climb, albeit shortly after the summit rather than – as was the case for the men – just before it. But if the attacks that ensued on Box Hill marked the beginning of the end of the GB men's medal hopes, instead Armitstead and team-mate Emma Pooley were that much fresher and better able to strike.

In fact, it was only on the second of the Box Hill ascents that Great Britain really started to impact on the race. First Pooley's two drives over the top softened up the opposition and deterred any climbers from making a late move – the best exploitation of her talents in largely unfavourable terrain for a lightly-built rider, and it meant she effectively acted as a springboard for Armitstead.

The other huge difference with Saturday's race was that whereas Cavendish could perhaps have got into the final breakaway – but ultimately did not – after Russian Olga Zabelinskaya charged away and then Marianne Vos and American Shelley Olds followed, Armitstead took the gamble that the leading break was going to stay away, and closed up the gap.

"I saw from the men's race it had been difficult on those really fast roads to pull back the [winning] break so I decided to commit," Armitstead said. "Vos was always going to be the one to watch and I knew that. I followed her around all the time. We had already been in one [short-lived] break [on Box Hill] but it was too early."

It was then that the planets starting aligning for Armitstead, even down to the weather. Before the race started, Vos had described the heavy, if thankfully intermittent, rainstorms as "ideal for me, just like the weather back in Holland. I'll be in my element."

But the appalling weather was no less to Armitstead's liking, given she also races for a Dutch team and has won two top races on the flat, fast roads of Flanders this spring. The first was in a total downpour just like yesterday's, the second was across roughly the same kind of distance and flat terrain.

The Yorkshirewoman was not sure, though, given the ferocity of the pursuit, that the break would stay away. But by that point, she had no choice but to gamble that it would work. "We went from about 35 seconds [in front] to 50 seconds and that's when I thought I'd start committing for good," Armitstead said. "We weren't getting any time checks [to let them know how big the gap was] but once you've committed you've just got to go for it."

The second thing in Armitstead's favour was knowing that both Nicole Cooke and Pooley were in the chasing group, meaning that even if the break did get caught on the long road back to London, the British still had other cards they could play.

"The race panned out exactly the way she hoped it would, a small group that stayed away," said the British road coach Shane Sutton. "The Dutch wanted the same thing and we knew that because of that, we would be in the mix."

"Once the rain started coming down on twisty, narrow roads then that played to our advantage, because the peloton of 40 or 50 riders is always going to be a little bit more cautious, and that will give you a few seconds."

One more unpredictable incident helped seal Britain's first medal: the puncture picked up by the American Shelley Olds who had been part of the breakaway group and had helped maintain the lead for 10km. "When Olds went that totally committed the three of them," added Sutton, "because they knew they were on for a medal, and it swung it in our favour."

And so the three leaders came on to The Mall ahead of the pack. The cherry on the cake, of course, would have been Britain's first gold of the Games, but Vos is the best one-day rider of her generation. A small group sprinting in tough conditions is her speciality and with Zabelinskaya flailing, she had contributed massively to the three-rider group staying away. As Dave Brailsford, GB Team Principal, said afterwards, "No one can begrudge Marianne winning this race as she was phenomenal." As for Armitstead he said: "She took a risk, and it paid off."

And after Saturday's stinging defeat, thanks to the Yorkshirewoman's finely calculated gamble, British cycling is smiling again.

 



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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits