David Brailsford has moved to resolve a dispute between Lizzie Armitstead and Nicole Cooke that is threatening to derail Great Britain’s women’s Olympic road race bid.
Armitstead this week launched a scathing attack on Cooke, claiming the Beijing Olympic gold medallist rode for herself at September’s World Championships in Copenhagen, where the 22-year-old Armitstead was Great Britain’s designated team leader.
A crash on the final lap left Armitstead chasing to regain contact ahead of the the final sprint, where she finished seventh, while Cooke went on to finish fourth, leaving Armitstead seething.
“[Cooke rode] for herself in my opinion,” she told Cycling Weekly. “I’ve never seen her work for a team-mate.”
National champion Armitstead went on to vent her frustration in the post-race meeting, with Great Britain coach Shane Sutton sharing the Garmin-Cervelo rider’s opinion, according to Cycling Weekly.
“I said exactly how I felt,” added Armitstead. “And I’m really happy I did, because it’s been an unspoken situation for too long,” Armitstead said. “It needed to be out there. Someone needed to be honest about what was going on and why we didn’t win a medal when we were capable of doing it. I was really disappointed.
“I had support in that meeting. It was a unanimous decision that Nicole didn’t do her job properly.”
Cooke has since brushed Armitstead’s criticism, claiming she “rode for the team and according to instructions given to me. It was a very difficult race tactically with some unlucky moments, but these things happen in cycling.”
Sutton and British Cycling chief Dave Brailsford are now left in a situation which they must carefully manage ahead of London 2012 in order to ensure calm is restored and medals delivered.
Armitstead is one of the sport’s rising stars and has forgone the opportunity to race in the velodrome in order to concentrate on the road race, although the 2009 team pursuit world champion admits she is not a shoo-in as team leader and “it will be quite simply judged on form in the lead-up to the race.”
While the men’s squad have a stand-out gold medal candidate in Mark Cavendish, who was delivered to the line with perfection to win the title in Copenhagen, both Armitstead and Cooke have the talent to deliver on London’s Olympic course – but Brailsford is confident the right team leader will be found ahead of July 29.
“It’s up to us to manage the situation, which we will, but behind closed doors,” he said. “We are a straight-talking group and everything that needs saying has been said in the back of the team bus or the proper debrief.
“Things didn’t go as well as we would have liked in Copenhagen but you don’t get everything right all of the time in a complicated business like a World Championships. We have learnt lessons and moved on.
“I’m relaxed about it. I don’t mind the individuals concerned having their say. I love to see that fire in the belly and that determination to be winners. That’s where Olympic gold medals come from.
“It’s brilliant that we have two girls who could potentially win, in fact three with Emma Pooley, but the only thing that really matters is getting a GB jersey first across the line. The jersey counts, not the individual. We have a very good chance next July and we need to maximise that.
“What is clear is that on race day you need clarity of thought, understanding of the team’s tactics and acceptance by everybody concerned. Nothing less will be good enough.”
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