Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) says she is exactly where she needs to be for the Olympic Games, after claiming victory and the race lead on stage 3 of the Aviva Women's Tour. Victory was all the sweeter with her family making the journey from Otley to Chesterfield to cheer her on.
Armitstead has just come off a block of training and had earlier admitted that she was not in top shape, but that didn't stop her helping to blow the race apart in the final 40 kilometres. Just two months away from the biggest goal of her season, the Olympic road race in Rio, she is more than happy with where her form is.
"I know that I'm in a really good place, I'm really fit. Although I didn't feel great, I didn't expect to," Armitstead said in her post-stage press conference. "I think that's an advantage for me; I didn't expect any good sensations on these roads so you have to get on with it and attack even if you don't feel great because you're never going to feel great on this kind of terrain.
"I'm not wanting to feel great. I don't want to feel sparky and aggressive. I just want to feel strong; that's where my phase of training is. There are about eight and a half weeks to go until Rio, and I'm right where I need to be."
The burden of the rainbow jersey can often prove a struggle for many a rider but Armistead's reign as the world champion has been confident and commanding one. With this latest victory, the Boels Dolmans rider has maintained a 50 per cent success record with six stages from just 12 days of racing. In her post-stage press conference, she exuded the confidence that comes with such success, but she refuses to get carried away with the high expectations of others.
After keeping her nose clean in the opening two stages and working for teammate Christine Majerus, Armitstead set her focus on this stage, the hilliest of the week. The stage played out perfectly for Armitstead and the team by first getting a rider up the road before she bridged the gap on the final climb.
"It was a real team performance. Chantal got into the breakaway, and then Ellen and Christine did the perfect lead-out for me on that steep climb," she explained. "Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio attacked from the bottom, but I couldn't follow the attack, or I'd go into the red.
"I knew from people's advice that it was a long, steep climb so I held her at 20 or 30 metres and managed to crawl back up to them and go over the top together."
Not that you would have noticed with her performance on stage 3, but Armitstead had to battle through illness through the opening stages and she's not yet out of the woods. Armitstead hadn't planned on letting others, including her rivals, know about her illness but her father let the cat out of the bag to a local reporter on the finish line.
"He's right," she laughed. "I've not felt great over the last couple of days. In a stage race, you hope that each day gets better. I've not been able to hold much food down, and that's a danger in a stage race because then you can run out of energy. I've been trying to get as much food down me and see how I fair up tomorrow."
Armitstead now holds a five-second led over Moolman-Pasio in the overall classification and her teammate Majerus is just 32 seconds down and still in with a chance of the overall victory. Boels Dolmans didn't come into the race with any ambitions of overall success and Armistead says that it won't change how they approach the final two stages.
"You'd probably expect us to, but we'd take it day by day," she explained. "When we say that, we're not trying to send any red herrings we really are here for a preparation race. Everybody here has separate goals in this part of the season. It's nice to have an open tactic, and nobody knows what we're going to do.
"It would be nice to [keep yellow], but that is the director's decision."
Join us for Women's Week on Cyclingnews from June 13-19, and check out the latest race results, news, features, blogs, tech and videos from the women's peloton on our brand new Cyclingnews women's page.
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1