Comment: one target hit for Lizzie Armitstead, now for Rio gold

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Comment: one target hit for Lizzie Armitstead, now for Olympic gold

Britain's world champion living up to hype of the rainbow jersey

“This year’s been very average. I suppose I can look at it and see that I am still consistently in the top ten in road races even when I feel like falling off the bike! I suppose it’s a good thing, but it’s not good for morale to keep training the same and not see the results for it.”

Lizzie Armitstead, speaking to RCUK after the 2013 season, revealed her burning desire to turn a string of top tens into something more. That the Yorkshirewoman was unhappy with a year including her second national title, a top-ten finish at La Route de France and a podium at the Boels Ladies Tour spoke volumes for her ambition.

Lizzie Armitstead has enjoyed a phenomenal year so far as world champion (pic: RCS Sport)

But it’s one thing being hungry for success, and another thing entirely satisfying such an appetite – and yet Armitstead has gone from strength to strength since.

Now world champion, the 27-year-old checked off the first of her two big ambitions for the 2016 season with victory at the women’s Tour of Flanders on Sunday.

Armitstead outsprinted Emma Johansson to bag her fourth win since first pulling on the rainbow jersey, and her third on the new UCI Women’s WorldTour in five races so far this season.

Victory at the Ronde was her prime target for the spring, with success at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche and Trofeo Alfredo Binda all building up to it.

The summer, of course, is all about the Olympic Games and her bid to go one better than the silver medal which kickstarted Great Britain’s medal rush in London four years ago.

And given her seemingly unstoppable form right now, you would back her to do exactly that in Rio in August – and probably rack up a whole host of successes before then too.

Since her “very average” 2013 season, Armitstead has stood on the podium at both the Tour of Flanders and La Fleche Wallonne, become Commonwealth Games road race champion, won the UCI Women’s Road World Cup twice, become world champion and now won the Tour of Flanders for the first time.

And it is not just the weight of victories which has been impressive but the different manners in which she has won, proving her versatility.

Armitstead is an aggressive rider, always looking to ignite races in the finale and reaping the rewards of that with her first three victories this season. At the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, her attack was designed to help team-mate Megan Guarnier, but turned into a race-winning move.

But she is also more than capable if she needs to rely on her sprinting – something she proved in winning the world road race, and then again by edging out Johansson at the Tour of Flanders.

Armitstead called on her track background to outdo the Swede, first in waiting for her opponent to open up the sprint and then with her bike throw to the line.

Armitstead, like male counterpart Peter Sagan, is a fitting world champion given her ability to win across many different types of terrain (pic: Sirotti)

Like her male counterpart, Peter Sagan, Armitstead’s status as world champion seems all the more fitting because of her ability to win in many different situations.

Armitstead’s form has almost single-handedly guaranteed Great Britain three riders in the women’s road race in Rio too – she has collected 874.25 of the 1158.25 points which put Britain sixth in the UCI ranking.

Nations ranked one to five (Australia currently lead the Brits by 140 points for the fifth spot) get four riders, so it could get even better too.

An Olympic gold medal is not a given, of course – Mark Cavendish was huge favourite in the men’s race in 2012, remember, and didn’t even get a sniff as other teams refused to help the Brits pull.

Lizzie Armitstead will pull on the British jersey again at Rio 2016 – a gold medal there is her next major target after winning the Tour of Flanders (pic: Sirotti)

Her opponents are also going to be stronger; while Boels-Dolmans have won every UCI Women’s WorldTour race this season, team-mates like Guarnier, Ellen van Dijk and Chantal Blaak – winner of the other two WorldTour races – will be working against her in Rio, if selected, not with her.

Long-standing rival – and the woman who beat Armitstead to gold in London – Marianne Vos is also back after injury ruined her 2015 season.

And when we say back, we don’t just mean back in the peloton – in just Vos’ second race since her comeback, the Pajot Hills Classic at the end of the March, the Dutch wonder woman was back on the top step of the podium.

But Armitstead has lived up to all the hype which comes with being world champion so far – you will struggle to find many more fitting bearers of the rainbow standard.

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