Armitstead plots cycling domination: Flanders and worlds wins

Britain's Lizzie Armitstead is coming into the 2015 season with red-hot form and lofty ambitions to win some of cycling's biggest races

DOHA, Qatar (VN) — Lizzie Armitstead is on her way to winning the Ladies Tour of Qatar, but she wants more. Team Boels-Dolmans’ Brit wants to dominate the world by winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and the world road championships in 2015.

“They are career-defining races,” Armitstead said after putting on the race leader’s golden jersey in Qatar.

“If you win Flanders and the world championships then you can retire a happy lady.”

Armitstead took the race lead from her Boels-Dolmans teammate Ellen Van Dijk in stage 3 thanks to bonus seconds earned by the stage win. If she successfully marks her rivals, including Chloe Hosking (Wiggle-Honda) at nine seconds, when the race concludes on Doha’s waterfront Friday, she will win the stage race overall.

The Tour of Qatar’s trophy would sit nicely next to her others, including those from the Boels Ladies Tour, the Omloop van het Hageland, and the Ronde van Drenthe World Cup from 2014. In the same trophy case, hangs a silver medal from the 2012 London Olympics for finishing second behind winner Marianne Vos.

It is her third year with the Dutch team, but Armitstead’s goals have changed. This winter, after her most successful season, she and the team sat down to map out the 2015 season.

“We divided it in two blocks,” team manager Danny Stam said, “the Flanders block and the worlds block.”

Like in men’s cycling, they rank among the top one-day races to win. The two wins, as Armitstead said, would allow any cyclist to retire a “happy lady.”

However, the 26-year-old English cyclist from West Yorkshire doesn’t plan to retire at the end of 2015 even if she wins Flanders in Oudenaarde, Belgium, or the worlds in Richmond, Virginia.

She looks to be on a victorious trajectory. Besides finishing second last year in the Flèche Wallonne and the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, she beat the group behind solo winner and teammate Van Dijk in Flanders. In Ponferrada, Spain, she rode ahead with a group of 15 and placed seventh.

Tour of Qatar success does not guarantee wins in Flanders or the worlds, but it indicates that a cyclist had a good winter and is ready for the year ahead.

“It’s a long way to Flanders and the worlds,” Armitstead said. “You just try to be in the best shape possible.”

This winter, Armitstead trained as she normally does, splitting time between Spain and England. Her speed and strength in Qatar could have been the result of a successful 2014 season in which she won the World Cup overall. Also, she likely has a solid training base between then and now. Whatever the reason, she has never won so early in the season.

“It’s just that each year you’re a year older and wiser,” Armitstead said. “I’m an old women now!”

“This is good for her confidence to start the season like this,” Stam explained. “It allows her to figure out where she is and what she misses for those key events further in the year.”

“It’s good for confidence,” continued Armitstead. “It’s good to come here and break up the monotony of winter training.

“It’s good to get out here and get some morale and speed in the legs.”

Armitstead will divide the team’s goals through the season with Van Dijk and other leaders like American Evelyn Stevens. One goal could be the World Cup in Philadelphia.

During her visit to the U.S., Armitstead will take a drive south on the I-95 to preview the Richmond course. It may be a small step — likely smaller than a win in Qatar — but like everything else, it is one step closer toward her plan to dominate the cycling world.