CYCLING: England’s Lizzie Armistead relieved to be road race champion

England's Lizzie Armitstead (right) celebrates Gold with Emma Pooley celebrating Silver
England's Lizzie Armitstead (right) celebrates Gold with Emma Pooley celebrating Silver

Lizzie Armitstead is relieved to finally be able to call herself a champion after leading an England one-two ahead of retiring team-mate Emma Pooley in a sensational Commonwealth Games women’s road race on the final day of Glasgow 2014 on Sunday.

The 25-year-old from Otley finished with silver behind Australia's Rochelle Gilmore in Delhi four years ago and claimed Britain's first medal of London 2012, with Olympic silver behind Marianne Vos of Holland.

Now she has the title she has long craved.

"I just feel like I deserve it," Armitstead said.

"I've trained so hard. I'm always on the podium, I don't win that many races.

"It's just a confidence thing. Once you've got a big title you can call yourself a champion finally.

"Hopefully it will bode well for the rest of the season.

"The psychologists tell you it should never be a relief when you win a race, but to tell you the truth it is."

Armitstead, a 2009 team pursuit world champion on the track, won the 2013 British title on the same Glasgow course, albeit with an extra lap, and was confident heading into the race, determined to shed her perennial runner-up status.

Pooley initiated the attack which led to the formation of a select group of seven riders on the fifth lap and continued to attack in tactics which played into English hands.

If she could go alone, she would; if she was chased, Armitstead was present.

Armitstead, who crashed out of contention in last Sunday’s La Course by Le Tour in Paris, had wanted a tough race and difficult conditions and the rain began to fall on the penultimate lap.

“I love the rain,” Armitstead added.

“I was just thinking of my family. When the rain started I knew they’d all be thinking ‘yes, this is good for Lizzie’.

“A little smile came on my face and I just thought ‘yes, this is perfect’.”

Pooley attacked alone and Armitstead joined her on Great George Street before accelerating ahead alone at the point where she made her move in the British Championships, soloing to a stunning triumph, with a tearful Pooley 25 seconds behind.

Bronze went to South Africa’s Ashleigh Pasio in a photo finish ahead of Australia’s Tiffany Cromwell.

Scotland’s Katie Archibald fell out of contention on the final lap, finishing seventh, two minutes 19 seconds behind.

Armitstead had the support of a stellar team - Laura Trott, Dani King, Lucy Garner, Hannah Barnes and Pooley - but even followed early attacks on her own, perhaps to show she was feeling strong.

She said: “There was a couple of times when I asked the girls to put in a little dig, to see what it did to the peloton and it split the peloton to pieces and I thought ‘what’s up with everyone?’

“I was definitely on a good day. I just thought I’d tease them a little bit, see what they were capable of. That gave me confidence to do what I did on the last lap.”

Trott, points race gold medallist on the track last week, described the race as “horrible”.

She added: “It was so hard. Coming off the track I wasn’t feeling that great and Lizzie was like ‘just chase’ when people were going and I was like ‘oh God, here goes’. I did feel a bit useless at times.

“I was so relieved when the group went. I was like ‘they need to go now’.

“It worked out perfectly. A good team plan and it paid off. That’s exactly what she wanted to do and for Emma to come second was incredible.”

Pooley has had a distinguished career, including 2008 Olympic silver in the Beijing time-trial, after helping Nicole Cooke to road race gold, and victory in the 2010 World Championships time-trial.

“I’m really grateful to her for sacrificing like she did,” Armitstead said.

“She has had quite a lot of stick over the years for some of her road-racing tactics but she really got it right today. We rode a perfect race together.

“She was quite emotional. I wanted to cry, but they wouldn’t come.”

Pooley was in tears as she crossed the line.

“It’s a nice way to finish, with a medal in your last race,” she said.

“I knew my family and friends were watching somewhere, and that means a lot to me.

“I was pretty sure Lizzie had the legs to win, but plans don’t always go to plan. To hang on for silver was fantastic and unexpected.”

On her role throughout the race, the 31-year-old added: “That’s the way it is in road racing, you do your job. She did a fantastic job, and I’d rather ride for Lizzie and she win than ride for me and I come second. It’s best that the team wins.”