When Lizzie Armitstead crossed the finish line at Richmond worlds, already in tears over the biggest result in her career, it wasn’t just a confirmation. It was a coronation. Great Britain’s newest Queen Elizabeth had been crowned.
As dramatic as it was — Armitstead attacked in the closing kilometers, led out the sprint, and held off a hard-charging Anna van der Breggen — her victory was hardly surprising.
For years, Armitstead has been a dominant force in one-day racing, able to climb and sprint with the best. If not for the phenom that is Marianne Vos, she would have won Olympic gold on home soil in 2012.
But in a career that includes victories at Gent-Wevelgem, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Ronde van Drenthe, and GP de Plouay; podium finishes at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Flèche Wallonne, Strade Bianche, and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad; and back-to-back World Cup overall series titles in 2014 and 2015, the rainbow jersey has to stand as the 26-year-old’s crowning achievement.
The fact that Armitstead arrived in Richmond, Virginia, as the overwhelming favorite made her victory all the sweeter. The Brit isn’t a pure sprinter, but she’s deadly in a reduced-bunch finish, which the technical Richmond course and its false-flat finish promised to deliver. So even though the entire peloton would be watching her, Armitstead came to Richmond with a plan, and she stuck to it, even when a late-race breakaway opened a one-minute advantage heading into the final lap.
“I had a strategy,” she said after the race. “It was eight laps, and I knew that I was going to make my move on the last lap. I knew the course inside out. I knew where the potholes were. I knew the best line on the cobbles. I’d thought about that course every single day since June. In training, I knew that I needed to do three repeated efforts followed by a sprint. Every single day I did that in training, and I knew, going into it, that I’d prepared better.”
As if winning worlds wouldn’t have been enough to make it a September to remember, the win came just two weeks after Armitstead announced her engagement to Irish rider Philip Deignan, of Team Sky. Planning a wedding will likely have to wait, however, as Armitstead has another big objective on the horizon in 2016. That Olympic gold medal she barely missed out on in London will be back up for grabs in Rio de Janeiro in August.
“An Olympic year is always a competitive year,” Armitstead says. “Everybody is fighting for a place in their national team. The spring is particularly hard, as people fight for the last available qualification points. It’s an advantage knowing that you have a secure spot, as it takes the pressure off.”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Armitstead ended the 2015 season as Commonwealth road champion, British national road champion, the World Cup overall winner, and Great Britain’s Sportswoman of the Year. And she turned in the women’s ride of the year to win her first rainbow jersey.
All hail the queen.