After closing what has to be the biggest season of her career to date, Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) has even bigger dreams for the coming years. Along with putting the disappointment of Ponferrada behind her by earning at least one gold at the next World Championships in Richmond, Armitstead is consumed by winning her first Olympic title in 2016.
"I think about it all the time. It's ultimately the biggest goal of my career," Armistead told Cyclingnews.
Armitstead was the first British medalist of London 2012 Olympic Games after taking silver behind Marianne Vos. The Rio course should suit Armitstead much more than the London course but she is not taking any chances and hopes to study the course at some point in 2015.
"I would like to try and see the course before I go to the Olympics in order to see how much of a climber I need to be before I go," she explained.
The 26-year-old British rider also plans on a trip to see the course for the World Championship road race in Richmond, Virginia.
"I'm pretty excited about that. I've heard different things from different people but there are cobbles and hard climbs so it sounds, on paper, like it should suit me. I will try to see it when I go to the Philadelphia world cup. Hopefully it will be hard enough."
Armitstead was one of the favourites to take home the rainbow stripes at the 2014 Worlds in Ponferrada. She was part of a strong breakaway that included defending champion Marianne Vos but the group was caught in the final kilometre when the riders refused to work together, allowing Pauline Ferrand-Prévot to take the title. Immediately afterwards, Armitstead criticised her companions for 'negative racing' but several months later she admits that she got it wrong on the day.
"I was in the shape to win it, I was in really good shape and tactically I didn't get it right and that makes it harder to get over," she admitted.
It isn't just the road race title that Armitstead has her sights on, she is also confident that Boels Dolmans can challenge for gold in the team time trial event. She and her teammates headed to Valencia before Christmas to train on the track, and work with bike sponsor Specialized on the time trialling positions. Armitstead is convinced that with the likes of 2013 world time trial champion Ellen van Dijk and new signing Evelyn Stevens, Boels Dolmans will be real contenders in Richmond.
"I really believe that," she says adamantly. "I sat down with Evelyn this week and we've discussed the fact that it is one of our main goals. Specialized is one of our main sponsors and for them it is really important that we showcase the best time trial bike in the world and do it justice."
Aside from the disappointment at the Worlds, Armitstead enjoyed her best season since turning professional in 2008. She led the World Cup competition right from the off with victory at the Ronde van Drenthe, followed by three consecutive second places. In an almost carbon copy move to the one that won her the British national title in 2013, Armitstead also took gold at the Commonwealth Games but she sees the second place at the Tour of Flanders as a turning point in her career.
"To be able to ride Flanders in complete control and never feel like I was under pressure or feel like I was going to be dropped. That to me signaled that I have moved on massively in cycling. If I can ride a Classic like that and not feel in the red, and then for Ellen to win it was pretty special."
Like Armitstead, women's cycling has enjoyed a big year with the advent of La Course and the Women's Tour of Britain. The USA Pro Cycling Challenge has added a multi-day women's race to their event for next season with a number of other races in the pipeline. Keeping up the momentum of such a big season will be important for women's cycling and Armitstead believes that there is still plenty to work on in the coming years.
"There's been a huge change since I started as a professional and every year it seems to be getting better. I'm pretty happy where women's cycling is at," said Armitstead.
"I've said before that ProTour teams should have a budget for women's teams alongside it. I think that would be a way to go and the minimum wage," she said. "It's all very well campaigning for a Tour de France but the reality is that if we haven't got enough riders that are earning a wage that enables them to be a full-time athlete then it is unrealistic to have a three-week Grand Tour."
The Vuelta a España is also looking into setting up a one-day race to coincide with the men's race next season, mirroring the Tour de France by running it ahead of the final stage.
"You get these massive opportunities to showcase women's cycling and you want to put on a performance of aggressive, attacking racing but, at the same time, it's a criterium course, which generally leads to boring sprinter-led race and is not really showcasing what women's cycling is. That is a shame but I understand why that has happened," she concluded.
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