Armitstead: Other nations will be scared of Pooley and me at the Olympics

Briton offers support to Varnish after being dropped from track team

Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) believes that the rest of the world will be scared of the British women’s team at this summer’s Olympic Games. Current world road race champion, Armitstead, heads towards Rio as the one the favourites, and although the British women’s team will probably comprise of just three riders, the likely inclusion of Emma Pooley will give the squad both experience and pedigree on a course suited to specialist climbers.

Pooley has not dedicated herself to the road since 2014 when she competed in the Commonwealth Games. She helped Armitstead to victory in the road race back then, and after a stint in duathlon she is set to return to the road with the Olympic time trial and the race road in her programme, should she be selected for the Games.

“The thing is with Emma is that she will never retire,” Armitstead told Cyclingnews on Monday.

“She’s an athlete and she’ll be an athlete until she dies. Even in retirement she did duathlons and I’m sure she will be capable. The course in Rio is so well suited to her and I think that other nations will look at the combination of her and me and will be scared. That’s great.

“It doesn’t really matter if we have three riders. The Olympics will be an elimination race and the strongest rider will win. I don’t know what having an extra rider would actually do, to be honest. I don’t think it will have a huge impact.”

Jess Varnish and allegations of sexism at British Cycling

While Armitstead’s march to Rio has been almost faultless the same cannot be said for the British women’s track team. There were a number of below-par performances at the World Championships in London earlier this year and last week Jess Varnish, a track veteran from the 2012 Games, was unceremoniously dropped from the squad. It prompted the track rider to launch a scathing attack on the British Cycling, and in particular head coach Shane Sutton, with allegations of sexism and mismanagement central to her complaints. Sutton and British Cycling have denied the allegations.

Armitstead, although long removed from the track set up, knows British Cycling better than most, even though the vast majority of her road career has been carried out without their support. Although she would not be drawn specifically on the Varnish’s allegations, providing a small but perhaps telling “no comment” when asked if she was surprised by what Varnish had to say, she did offer her support and understanding as one athlete to another.

“I operate outside of British Cycling and I have done for a very long time,” she told Cyclingnews.

“The support going into Rio has been really good so I don’t know what goes on at the track anyone, especially on the sprint side.

“As a fellow athlete to Jess I have huge sympathy for her in that situation. To be cut and dropped is scary stuff and you wonder why that happened. I hope that both sides figure it out. I’m very surprised that she was dropped.”

The road campaign continues

So far Armitstead’s season has been close to perfection. Victory in her first race at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was followed up with wins in Strade Bianchi, Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Tour of Flanders. She is now enjoying a period of rest, having not raced since La Fleche Wallonne.

“It’s been the best season ever. I’ve won more races this season than I ever have at this point so far. I’ve tapered off now but I was hanging on at Flanders, and the sensations weren’t great for the last two weeks. From then on it was about maintaining training until Fleche Wallonne, where I was taking more of a team role. I’m having a week off the bike and then the Tour de Yorkshire is my first race back.”

Rio, however, comes more into focus with every passing race and each interview Armitstead carries out. The road race in Brazil has been her aim since her silver medal in London four years ago but despite the repeated questions and the all or nothing attitude, the Boels Dolmans rider does not appear to be feeling the strain.

“As a British rider, with the media, and the non-cycling media the Games are their focus,” said Armitstead. “To win something like that though you need to be to that focused. You can’t try and win the Giro, because for me, as a Classics rider, it’s about one-day races and it’s something that I’ve got used to. Last year it was all about Richmond and every year there’s something. I don’t mind, and that’s just the way it is.

After her mini-break Armistead will return to racing at the Tour de Yorkshire before moving on to the Women’s Tour, nationals, the women’s Giro, La Course and then finally the Games. Her Giro ride will perhaps provide an insight and into her Olympic form, with the British rider targeting one-day in the mountains, rather than the race’s GC. Even a race as important as the Giro is tailored into her Olympic ambitions.

“I want to perform there one day in the mountains. Physically it’s a good block of training but I want to have one good day and be the best in the world on that day. The rest of the race I’ll be a team player and I have no plans to be a stage race rider.”

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