LONDON (AFP) — A day after Great Britain’s much-fancied men failed to deliver an opening gold medal, Lizzie Armitstead’s silver in the women’s cycling road race handed the host nation a welcome boost Sunday.
Armitstead came into the race carrying the hopes of a nation 24 hours after compatriot Mark Cavendish, the world champion, failed to even contend the bunch sprint that he had been widely expected to dominate.
And despite being upstaged by Dutchwoman Marianne Vos, a world champion at the age of 19 who has since finished runner-up at world level five times consecutively, defeat was not bittersweet for the Yorkshire native.
“Winning this medal in front of my family and friends is the most special thing I’ve ever experienced in my life; it’s so crazy and so inspiring!” said Armitstead.
A former track rider who has won gold, silver and bronze at senior level in the world track championships, the 24-year-old Armitstead has come on leaps and bounds on the road.
She was one of the favorites for gold at the world championships in Copenhagen last year, where a late race mix-up with teammate Nicole Cooke, the 2008 Olympic road champion, led to a well-publicized spat between the pair.
British Cycling played down the incident in the lead-up to the Games, claiming both riders would get their chance at the gold depending on race circumstances.
And when Olga Zabelinskaya attacked 45km from the finish of the 140km race, it was Armitstead who was best placed to respond.
Although ultimately coming off second best in a two-up sprint with race favorite Vos, team coach Chris Newton put her achievement into perspective.
“It’s difficult to beat Vos. She’s come in with with five stages (wins) from the Giro d’Italia and the overall,” he said.
Team GB cycling chief Dave Brailsford, who also heads Team Sky’s professional operations on the road, was quick to applaud Armitstead’s “magnificent performance” after the men were upstaged on Saturday.
“We wanted to start off well yesterday and it didn’t quite work out, so we wanted to bounce back today and that’s what we did and the team rode fantastically,” said Brailsford.
“She rode the perfect race, but just didn’t quite have the legs in the end. But credit to her, it was a magnificent performance and she deserves it because she’s worked so hard for so many years.
“Lizzie took a risk, she took the initiative and it paid off. But I don’t think anyone can begrudge Marianne winning this race, as she was phenomenal.”