Armitstead: I felt like a zombie but have no excuses
Briton out of the medals after missed tests furore Crash puts Dutch rider in hospital
‘Nobody can crash here and get up. This was way past technical, this was dangerous’
Lizzie Armitstead admitted she was looking forward to putting her Olympic experience behind her and returning to the “people that care about me and love me” after finishing fifth in a dramatic women’s road race yesterday, won by Anna van der Breggen but overshadowed by a row over the safety of the route following a spectacular crash suffered by her fellow Dutchwoman Annemiek van Vleuten.
Armitstead, who has been under huge scrutiny this week after it emerged last Monday that she had been through a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing to overturn a possible ban for missing three out of competition doping tests, insisted that she received support from her fellow professionals in the peloton during yesterday’s race.
But she admitted that she had arrived at the race “a bit of a zombie” owing to a lack of sleep in recent weeks.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to putting this behind me,” Armitstead said, “but it’s the Olympic Games and at the end of the day I’m a sports fan. I think Team GB are going to have some extraordinary performances and I hope that the nation doesn’t lose faith and they get behind the team because it’s going to be a good two weeks of sport.”
Asked whether there was anything she could do to restore her standing in the eyes of the public, many of whom felt she should not have been allowed to compete, she replied: “I have to come to terms with it. I can’t pick up the phone to everybody that doubts me and explain myself, the only thing that I can do – and the only thing that I’ve always done – is to ride my bike fast and get my head down and control the things I can control.”
Armitstead had said before the race that she would be disappointed with anything but gold here, but given her preparations, she said she was satisfied with fifth.
“It wasn’t entirely unexpected to be honest,” she said. “I knew I was going to need a miracle to come away with the gold medal on this course.
“I felt a bit like a zombie coming into it. I haven’t had a lot of sleep these last few weeks but when I am on my bike I am doing what I know, it’s what I am in control of and my brain switches into auto-pilot mode – so there are no excuses at all.”
For the second time in two days, following the crashes suffered by leaders Vincenzo Nibali and Sergio Henao in the men’s road race, the finale was marred by a serious accident on the descent of the Vista Chinesa, this time to Van Vleuten, who had escaped solo off the front with 11km remaining.
The Dutchwoman was sent somersaulting over her handlebars and landed on her back in the same concrete storm drain that Geraint Thomas ended up in 24hrs previ- ously. Van Vleuten was seen lying motionless, upside down, before the cameras cut away and it was not until after Van der Breggen had caught the new lone leader Mara Abbot (USA) and outsprinted Emma Johansson (Sweden) and Elisa Longo-Borghini (Italy) that the Netherlands’ chef de mission confirmed that she was conscious and in an ambulance.
The accident led Chris Boardman, analysing the race for the BBC, to describe the route as “too dangerous”.
“I’m actually quite angry because I looked at the road furniture and thought nobody can crash here and get up,” he said. “This was way past technical, this was dangerous.”
Mick Bennett, the Tour of Britain’s race director, agreed, saying the UCI, cycling’s world governing body, should never have signed off the route, describing it as a “staggeringly bad” decision.
“Totally agree should not have been cleared by the UCI. I don’t know who agrees these things or even bothers to look at them. Staggeringly bad decisions. What happens now?”
The race itself was a slow burner. Armitstead got off to a disastrous start, suffering a puncture in the opening miles just as her team-mate Emma Pooley attacked off the front of the bunch with what was presumably a prearranged move.
With no race radio, Pooley had no inkling that she was making life difficult for her team leader, who then had to chase back on on her own with Nikki Harris inexplicably deciding not to drop back to help. After finally catching back up to the bunch Armitstead appeared to exchange a few curt words with her Boels Dolmans team mate.
How much that cost her in terms of effort was unclear, but she was unable to hang on to the leaders up the Vista Chinesa, with Abbot and Van Vleuten escaping together over the top. After Van Vleuten’s crash, Abbot managed to hang on until the final 100m when she was caught, agonisingly, by the trio of chasers who eventually formed the podium.
Armitstead, in a group a further 10 seconds back, sprinted to fifth.
“I’m very thankful to the girls,” she said of her team-mates Pooley and Harris. “They did a great job today, they really gave me their all. Nikki in particular was a bit of a psychologist on the way.
“The immediate future is about getting to see my family and being around people that care about me and love me and I’m very much looking forward to that.”
Scenic route: The peloton rides away from Rio in yesterday’s road race