After declining to participate in last year's inaugural Women's Tour de Yorkshire, describing it as "a token event", world champion Lizzie Armitstead was fulsome in her praise of the race's second edition. Set to take place on April 30, the race will feature a very impressive prize fund of £50,000 and follow the same route as the second stage of the men's Tour de Yorkshire that same day.
Confirming her participation as a press conference in York, Armitstead said, "I'd like to support the fact that there is a proper stage this year."
Critical of last year's women's race in Yorkshire that wasn't UCI-registered and took place on a short circuit in York, Armitstead said the newly registered 1.2-category race that extends to 135 kilometres between Otley and Doncaster is a clear sign event organisers ASO are moving the event in the right direction.
"I think it's good that if you put on a race you do it properly, that it's not just a token event. If I'm totally honest I think that's what last year's race was, just a token event. It's good to see that this year they're doing it properly, putting equal prize money out there, inviting all the best teams and getting UCI status. If you're going to do the job, do it properly and that's what they're doing this year," she stressed.
The race will start in the world champion’s home town of Otley, leading her to joke that, "They didn't give me much chance not to turn up, did they?" The Yorkshirewoman added: "It's pretty crazy really. I didn't realise until I saw leaflets in my mum's kitchen last night talking about big screens in Otley and heard that my sister has got friends booking out rooms in her house that it's gonna be quite a big deal. I'm lucky that it's starting in Otley and they've got a proper women's race this year. It's worth me coming back for."
However, Armitstead tempered her praise with a call for the event's boost in status to continue. "Obviously I think the way forward is for it to go to three days and hopefully that will happen in the future," she said.
Asked about the race's massive increase in prize money primarily as a result of sponsorship from supermarket chain Asda, the Boels-Dolmans rider admitted she finds the focus on prize money strange. "As a cyclist it's never even entered my consciousness," revealing that she thought her winnings for the recent Strade Bianche, a Women's WorldTour event, amounted to €800.
"We have a girl who runs the prize money in the team. She figures out what prize money we've won in races and sends us a cheque at the end of the year. It might be two grand each. So it's not something that I'm hanging on for or thinking about going into races," she said.
Pressed for her thoughts on the ongoing debate in the tennis world about men and women competing for equal prize money, Armitstead said she sees the situation as very different in cycling. "I would much rather have the ability to do the equivalent to the Amstel Gold Race and win no prize money," she explained. "There are so many things we need before we have equal prize money. I'd rather have the opportunity to race up the Cauberg. I think those steps should come first in women's cycling."
Clearly, the Briton knows the most of the roads in the Yorkshire race very well, and sees it going one way. "It'll be a sprint stage, so if I was sat here as a sprinter I'd be delighted. It's not ideal, but they are tough roads. They're soggy, heavy roads. It's not like going round on hot Spanish sunny tarmac, so it will be a hard stage," she said.
She was less sure about the riders she is likely to face. "It's effectively an inaugural event, so it's difficult to know. Especially in an Olympic year, people are very specific around what they are doing and whether they will travel to a new event I don't know," she said.
"I hope so because it's an opportunity for people now it's UCI-registered to get points. It's one of the last races before the qualification for Rio closes, so there should hopefully be people chasing points."