Van Vleuten’s sick­en­ing crash puts ev­ery­thing else into proper per­spec­tive

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - RIO 2016 - Paul Hay­ward Bri­tish rider’s tribu­la­tions had over­shad­owed run-up to road race but mat­tered lit­tle by the end

Lizzie Ar­mit­stead said: “I can’t feel sorry for my­self.” She was right about that, when An­ne­miek van Vleuten had been left jack-knifed and mo­tion­less by a sick­en­ing down­hill crash. There were much big­ger is­sues to worry about than whether Ar­mit­stead had been up­set by the self-in­flicted dis­trac­tion of her three missed dop­ing tests.

Well, two missed dop­ing tests, tech­ni­cally, be­cause the first was quashed by the Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion in Sport, thus clear­ing the way for the Lon­don 2012 sil­ver medal­ist to chase gold over a course that many ex­perts con­sider to have been down­right dan­ger­ous.

Ar­mit­stead’s fifth place be­hind Van Vleuten’s Dutch team-mate, Anna van der Breggen, will hardly qual­ify as a tragedy, how­ever much sleep she lost, what­ever the da­m­age to her stand­ing.

We prob­a­bly ought to re­serve the sym­pa­thy for Mara Ab­bott, the Amer­i­can rider dumped from first to fourth in a sprint fin­ish along the Copaca­bana – and most of all for Van Vleuten, who braked on the course’s most chal­leng­ing de­scent, hit a pave­ment edge and landed on her face, a fall that left her crum­pled on the verge.

Those per­ilous de­scents and high pave­ments jeop­ar­dised rid­ers in both the men’s and women’s races, and none crashed more chill­ingly than Van Vleuten, who broke away from Ab­bott as they came over a hill but ended up pre­sent­ing a haunt­ing spec­ta­cle to the rest of the field as they sped past.

Ar­mit­stead was one of those who will have seen the Dutch faller, as she strug­gled on to fin­ish fifth. It was an­other rea­son for Bri­tain’s big hope to count her bless­ings.

All day there was a cu­ri­ous min­gling of the le­gal and moral cur­rents around Ar­mit­stead. Legally, there could be no doubt­ing her right to be in the race – un­less CAS judg­ments are sud­denly to be ig­nored.

At the start her fa­ther, who ha­rangued the jour­nal­ist who broke the story of her missed tests, wore a union flag em­bla­zoned with her name, and sup­port­ers shouted: “Go Lizzy.” In her en­tourage there was a sense that Ar­mit­stead was be­ing seen as a vic­tim of some kind of mis­car­riage of jus­tice.

The con­dem­na­tion, they can ar­gue with. The facts, they can­not. But in sport’s de­nial cul­ture, the mes­sen­ger (or the re­porter) is deemed to be ‘ the prob­lem’, and not the sheer un­pro­fes­sion­al­ism of al­low­ing three dope tests to be missed in­side 10 months.

Fam­i­lies stick­ing by their loved ones is hardly a shock. Who would not do the same? But where it crept into mawk­ish­ness was the sug­ges­tion that po­ten­tial hurt to Ar­mit­stead’s feel­ings were the paramount con­cern. We passed the point decades ago where it is the pub­lic duty’s to ac­cept every ex­pla­na­tion they are given for missed dop­ing tests: the point where moral reser­va­tions are con­sid­ered an in­sult to the ath­lete.

On the start line, the three Bri­tish rid­ers main­tained icy ex­pres­sions. No words were ex­changed un­til Ar­mit­stead leant across and tapped Nikki Har­ris and Emma Poo­ley, wish­ing them both good luck.

Poo­ley and Har­ris were en­ti­tled to be re­sent­ful about the fuss around Ar­mit­stead, for the dis­trac­tion it cre­ated, and the feel­ing it cre­ated that Ar­mit­stead had treated the sport she “loves” with dis­re­gard, what­ever the cir­cum­stances of each missed test (she went to great lengths to ex­plain each one, shift­ing some of the blame to the testers).

The lack of warmth on the start line was pre­dictable. Be­yond the Bri­tish trio there was out­right hos­til­ity, with Pauline Fer­rand-Prévot of France, Ar­mit­stead’s pre­de­ces­sor as world cham­pion, call­ing the de­ci­sion to an­nul her first trans­gres­sion “shame­ful.”

She went on: “It’s not about Lizzie. It’s about the judg­ment. It’s not fair that she can race and other rid­ers can­not. I have noth­ing against Lizzie. I will be very happy to see her at the start line, be­cause she is very strong and this is the Olympics. But the rule has to be the same for ev­ery­body.”

Her point, by the looks of it, is that go­ing back in time and nul­li­fy­ing the first of three of­fences so that the third be­comes, in ef­fect, the sec­ond, vi­o­lates the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. And Ar­mit­stead’s neg­li­gence in not avoid­ing a third trans­gres­sion when she had al­ready com­mit­ted two was hard to for­give.

Among the pos­si­ble out­comes were that Ar­mit­stead would win, be booed and have to sub­mit to hos­tile cross-ex­am­i­na­tion, or miss out on a medal while blam­ing emo­tional stress. On the BBC she said she felt like a “zom­bie” in the race through lack of sleep.

“I have to come to terms with it,” she said. “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 I’ve al­ways done – is to ride my bike fast and get my head down and con­trol the things I can con­trol.”

Ob­scured by the Ar­mit­stead im­broglio was Bri­tish cycling’s dis­ap­point­ing re­sults. In the men’s and women’s races, Team GB rid­ers fin­ished fifth, 11th, 12th and 15th, with four non-fin­ish­ers. Ar­mit­stead was the best of them.

“I’d be ly­ing if I said I wasn’t look­ing for­ward to putting this be­hind me,” she said. Her rep­u­ta­tional scar­ring, though, was noth­ing com­pared to Van Vleuten’s brush with death. To hear that she was con­scious made ev­ery­thing else seem tiny.

Fans shouted, ‘Go Lizzy,’ and there was a sense in her en­tourage that she was a vic­tim

Golden girl: Anna van der Breggen se­cures vic­tory for Hol­land

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