Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) forms part of a strong field that is set to line-up at the inaugural Women’s Tour. World champions Ellen van Dijk and Marianne Vos and double Olympic track champion Laura Trott will join Armitstead when the race starts in Oundle, Northamptonshire on Wednesday.
Armitstead has had a hugely impressive start to this season. She won the opening round of the World Cup at the Ronde van Drenthe and has not been off the podium in a round of the series since, with second places at the Tour of Flanders and Flèche Wallonne. She now holds a commanding 160-point lead in the competition.
The British national champion hasn’t raced in the UK since taking the title and is hoping for a glorious return to British shores and a chance to show off her stripes. "It's difficult but I want to do well in my home race. All my family and friends are coming to support me,” Armitstead told the Guardian newspaper. "It really suits me or the team."
The race is the equivalent of the men’s Tour of Britain and will be given the same television coverage and prize money as the men. The addition of this race to the women’s calendar came after the next that ASO would run a one-day race in tandem with the final stage of the Tour de France. There has also been talk that the Vuelta a España, also owned by ASO, would stage their own one-day women’s event. With all this in mind, Armitstead is happy that the women’s sport is moving in the right direction.
"This is really significant for all of us... most women's races don't pay much at all,” she said. "I feel quite positive about women's cycling right now… I'm confident we'll get on Eurosport one day."
"The UCI are now live-streaming the World Cup races and Tracey Gaudry [the first woman to be elected vice-president at the UCI] has been at every race. I like her and so there are some positive changes."
Armitstead has been extremely vocal in the past about women’s cycling and the inequality that the female peloton have to endure. During the UCI’s presidential election last season, she was critical of British candidate – now president - Brian Cookson saying that he wasn’t doing enough to change the women’s side if the sport. The British cyclist knows more than most how unstable life can be in the women’s peloton. She has been at the blunt end of the shaky world that can be cycling when she had three teams fold on her in the space of three years.
Without the support structure of an outfit such as team Sky, Armitstead has had to carve her own way as a professional. She is now with the Boels Dolmans team, who she has a contract with until the end of 2016. Despite her success, female cyclists still have no direct way into the sport. The closest they have is Wiggle Honda, which is home to the likes of Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell.
“There's no women's programme. There's no women's road academy. There's no pathway for women," she says of the British structure. “Their business model is dictated by the Olympics and funding is generated by medals. There are many more medals to be won on the track rather than the road, so I can understand the logic.”
“It's always been like this. I had to find my own path and, in some ways, it's been a good thing. I'm quite a strong person and I've become even stronger… If you're going to succeed in professional sport you have to be resilient."
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