Gent-Wevelgem victory makes Lizzie Armitstead a Ronde van Vlaanderen contender
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Monday, March 26, 2012

Gent-Wevelgem victory makes Lizzie Armitstead a Ronde van Vlaanderen contender

by Ben Atkins at 1:37 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Tour of Flanders
 
British champion joins the list of riders to watch in Sunday’s Vlaanderens Mooiste; 23-year-old staking claim to leadership of GB Olympic team

lizzie armitsteadLizzie Armitstead’s victory in Sunday’s first ever women’s edition of the great Semi-Classic Gent-Wevelgem was her second of the season, and adds the AA Drink-Leontien.nl rider’s name to the list of riders to watch in Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen. With both of her victories coming over challenging, hilly, cobbled courses, the British champion will surely start Vlaanderens Mooiste as one of the favourites, even though it is a race she has yet to finish.

In her five years in the elite European peloton so far, Armitstead has only actually taken the start of the Ronde once, back in 2008, as a focus on the track has seen her riding the World championships on the boards instead. Having forsaken the track this year however, to concentrate on July’s Olympic road race, the 23-year-old Yorkshirewoman is beginning to show her class in the early season classics.

Now dressed in the iconic white, red and blue jersey that Nicole Cooke claimed as her own for so many years, Armitstead could be on the verge of emulating her compatriot - and rival for the British Olympic team leader’s mantle - who took the 2007 Ronde in the jersey.

Both of her 2012 victories have come as Armitstead - who is better known as a sprinter - escaped the peloton; in the Omloop van het Hageland at the beginning of March she got away with Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Rabobank) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec Products-Mistral Home), but on Sunday she went alone.

Armitstead attacked on the Baneberg after 69km, and only Liesbet De Vocht (Rabobank) was able to join her. Her acceleration on the mythical Kemmelberg seven kilometres later was more than the former Belgian champion could handle however, and the British champion was alone with almost 40km still to ride.

“I went really well over the cobbles,” Armitstead said afterwards. “Liesbet was so far behind that there wasn’t any point waiting for her.

“I realised that my position in the lead was good for the team,” she explained. “Behind me there were several groups of riders, with my teammates Kirsten Wild and Jessie Daams. If I got pulled back then Kirsten would be able to win the sprint.”

The British champion wasn’t caught though, and soloed over the Monteberg and the rest of the way to the finish in Wevelgem; crossing the line alone, some 51 seconds clear of the chasing group.

lizzie armitsteadA good day for the AA Drink-Leontien.nl team saw Daams take third place - only outsprinted by Rabobank’s Iris Slappendel - completing a podium that, under different circumstances would have been 100% Garmin-Barracuda. Wild won the sprint for fifth, making it three from the blue and green team in the top five, while Armitstead’s compatriot Lucy Martin was tenth.

While Armitstead’s class in both Hageland and Gent-Wevelgem was undeniable, it should be remembered that - with the women’s peloton split between the prestigious Belgian race and the Trofeo Binda World Cup race in Italy - there were a number of big names missing from Sunday’s field.

Results against a full peloton so far have been less spectacular, although they have certainly been strong; a week before her Hageland victory Armitstead was tenth in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, having been part of the leading group; she followed a seventeenth in the Ronde van Drenthe World Cup - where she was again part of the winning move - with third place in the Novilon Euregio Cup on a similar course the next day.

On both occasions the races were won by Dutch champion Marianne Vos, whose 2012 road season so far looks ominously similar to her all-conquering winter of cyclocross. Vos will be there on Sunday, looking to take her third straight World Cup of the year and, while the AA Drink-Leontien.nl team is a strong unit this year, it will be a tall order to beat the World number one in this kind of form.

Cooke too will be in Oudenaarde on Sunday however, and with Armitstead having finished ahead of the reigning Olympic champion in both their previous meetings this season - in the Ronde van Drenthe and Novilon Euregio - the Yorkshirewoman will be looking to stake her claim to leadership in London once more.

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