Lizzie Armitstead has given an emotional interview to the BBC, Britain's public broadcaster, in which she concedes that her reputation has been irrevocably damaged and that a gold medal in the Olympic Games road race on Sunday would be tainted as a result.
"In this situation I'm never going to win," said the 27-year-old. "If I win the race, people will say it's because of something else, and if I lose, people will say it's another reason."
Armitstead had emerged as the golden girl of women's cycling, becoming world champion last September and dominating in the rainbow bands this season, but a dark cloud gathered overhead when it emerged she had been suspended for missing three anti-doping tests in the space of a year. The first of those has been expunged by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who deemed she was not at fault, and she has been cleared to race in Rio, but the resulting question marks and doubts, according to Armitstead herself, will never dissipate.
"Devastated – absolutely devastated," was her response when asked how she felt about the scepticism that is now coming her way.
"People are going to judge me, they're going to judge my family. I would never cheat, not in any walk of life, I wouldn't cheat. People will think I'm a cheat for the rest of my life and that's because of not ticking a box on a form, and I don't mean to make it sound trivial – it's not – it's a fight we all have to take responsibility for and as world champion I should take it higher than anyone else. But something happened to me and my family that I couldn't control and that's more important to me than cycling."
Armitstead can count on her family and teammates for support but she revealed that the peloton is split – "there's a large group of girls who do follow the same procedure and understand the situation I'm in, there's large group of them that don't." Her predecessor as world champion, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, would seem to fall into the latter category, having tweeted the words 'just shameful' in relation to the news – a comment that she later expanded upon.
Armitstead will have to put all that to the back of her mind in the final couple of days leading up to the Olympic road race – as she did when preparing for the race in July with the secret hanging over her – but she recognises she will soon have to come to terms with the fact that nothing will ever be the same again.
"I'm not at the point of accepting it yet but I'll have to come a point of accepting that people will doubt me forever."
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