Lizzie Armitstead put paid to any notion of the so-called ‘curse’ of the world champion’s jersey on Saturday, as she rode away to take a solo victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in her first race in the rainbow bands.
“There’s no curse,” she joked from atop the podium in Gent. “And I was number 13,” she added, proving that there can’t have been any supernatural forces at work.
Indeed, the Boels Dolmans rider didn’t let luck or superstition come into it; her presence first in a crucial selection, then a two-woman move with Gracie Elvin, followed by her bid for freedom and solo ride to the line, attested to the more prosaic factors of talent, good form, and astute race craft.
“World champions aren’t lucky, we work hard, and we don’t suddenly start working the next winter because you’re world champion,” Armitstead told Cyclingnews and other media after fulfilling her podium duties. “It gives me extra motivation rather than stopping me from training hard.”
Armitstead said it wasn’t the plan to make a relatively long-range solo bid, but rather to arrive at the closing kilometres with strength in numbers. However, the situation out on the road, with selections being made early on, caused her to adapt and eventually take matters into her own hands.
“We had four girls at the front, and I just kind of rolled away, it was a strange one, no one followed me,” Armitstead said of her initial move.
She went clear with Elvin and, frustrated at the Australian’s lack of cooperation, slowed up, happy to wait for teammates behind, before sensing an opportunity and catching her adversary off-guard.
“There was a small moment where she didn’t pay attention and it went uphill so I attacked her and just put my head down and went to the finish,” she said. “It was one of the most difficult victories I’ve ever had. It was a long way to the finish on my own, and very windy.”
For Armitstead, it’s the perfect start to the season, not to mention a resounding statement of intent ahead of the Tour of Flanders in April. After the spring Classics her focus will shift slightly as she hones her climbing form ahead of a hilly Olympic road race course in Rio, but she has already overcome the first big hurdle – that of shaking off any pressure arising from her newfound status as world champion.
“There are so many questions from the media, the team, and everybody really, about coming back after the world championships. It’s been a hard, busy, winter, so personally it’s nice to know my shape is there,” she said.
“It was difficult to come here in my first race not knowing how my legs would be but obviously the legs are good and the team is good, so it’s a nice start. It makes the rest of the season easier, the morale high. We raced really well as a team and I’m really proud.”