Lizzie Armitstead admits that her performances so far this season have brought added pressure ahead of the Women’s Tour of Flanders on Sunday, but believes that the pressure is in fact a positive force.
The world champion has put paid to the notion of a ‘curse’ of the rainbow jersey with wins at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche, and the Trofeo Alfredo Binda – three of the five races she’s entered this year.
The other two – the Ronde van Drenthe and Gent-Wevelgem – were won by her teammate Chantal Blaak, and as such, the Boels-Dolmans team approach the hills and cobbles of Flanders as the formidable force in the women's peloton.
“It brings added pressure, which isn’t a bad thing,” said Armitstead in a statement from the team. “I like the pressure. I think most of the girls on the team like the pressure. It means we’re the team to beat, but I think that’s a better position than the opposite way around.
“It’s always easier when the team is so well bonded and racing together so instinctively,” she added. “Things flow easier, and the wins come easier. Being in a team where everyone trusts each other and has committed to goals make things easier.”
The Tour of Flanders is one of two major objectives Armitstead set herself ahead of the 2016 season, the other being the Olympic Games road race in Rio this summer.
While the 27-year-old will hone her climbing legs in the coming months, her training and racing so far this season have all been geared towards what she expects to be a gruelling day of racing in northern Belgium. The women’s race takes place on the same day as the men’s and the 141-kilometre course features 10 hellingen and five cobbled sectors, with the Oude Kwaremont – Paterberg combination likely to prove crucial ahead of the finish in Oudenaarde.
“It’s always a hard race. You never get an easy win. The winner is always someone who is on top of their game who has managed to handle tactics, weather, form, everything. You’re never going to get a lucky winner. I like that about Flanders," said Armitstead.
“It’s a war of attrition really. It’s as interesting watching the front of the race as it is the back. Something is happening the entire day. It’s a nervous race with lots of crashes because everyone wants to be at the front on the corner before the cobbles or before the climbs, which makes it very tactical.”
Armitstead has finished eighth, second, and ninth in her last three and only outings at the Tour of Flanders, and the Brit admits she’ll need everything to come together if she’s to add the Ronde title to her burgeoning palmares.
“I need to have very good legs. I need to have very strong teammates. I need a little bit of luck, no mechanicals, and I need to make the right tactical decisions," she said.
Along with Armitstead and Blaak, Boels Dolmans head into the race with a third option in the form of Ellen van Dijk, who won the 2014 edition ahead of Armitstead in a Boels one-two.