After winning Silver in the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010 as well as the London Olympics two years ago, it seemed only natural that Lizzie Armitstead would take Gold at the third opportunity in Glasgow on Sunday. The 25-year old from Otley in Yorkshire made a crucial and decisive breakaway – aided by a tactically astute English team – to take the Commonwealth Road Race title.
Whilst the rain from Saturday had abated come race morning, the roads were still damp and slippery. It was with this in mind that the peloton were tentative from the start. A peloton of 63 starters was quickly whittled down to around 25 or so riders. There were no real attacks nor was there any great pace; the riders feeling the conditions initially.
Pulling Team England at the front was Dani King and Hannah Barnes; their hard work would pay great dividends for Armitstead who, for the time being, chose to stay out of trouble. King and Barnes would eventually finish 10th and 12th respectively. However – as Armitstead pointed out post-race – honourable mention went to Emma Pooley who, in her last ever race, dragged and wore down the rest of the peloton to allow her team-mate to break free.
The second lap saw the first attempted breakaway; the Australians through Shara Gillow going first, only for it to be countered by Barnes and King. Next for Australia was Melissa Hoskins, who broke away, only for Barnes to counter it once more. They went toe to toe through Kelvingrove Park and it showed; Barnes nearly losing the bike on a corner.
Scotland’s Katie Archibald made a steady start, initially staying towards the back of the field before moving forward. Perhaps the enthusiasm of a home Games got the better of the Milngavie native as she tracked down the Gillow break on the second lap while Armitstead and co. backed off. Archibald managed to stay with the leading pack deep into the race however, and roared on by the passionate home crowd, she was in contention for a medal as the race reached its conclusion. Alas, it wasn’t to be as the leaders proved too fresh at the end. The 20 year old would finish 7th and round off an impressive competition.
Attack after attack followed, and as did the counter-attack. The race became poised at an ever enduring stale-mate. A more serious looking attack then started with Chloe Hosking breaking away; this time it was countered by Laura Trott – the double Olympic champion and Commonwealth Points Race Gold medallist acting as an aide to Armitstead. A sizeable 10 second lead was established before it was eventually nullified.
As the peloton bunched up once more and all attacks faded away, Trott and Hoskins dropped further back through the pack. Trott finished 20th and Hoskins 26th. At the front, Emma Pooley was performing admirably as she pulled along the new top half a dozen plus one of Armitstead, Gracie Elvin and Tiffany Cromwell of Australia, South Africa’s Ashleigh Pasio, Time Trial winner Linda Villusem and Katie Archibald. It was a battle of bottle and it had an air of England versus Australia once again; in many ways the whole race had been a series of mini battles between the top two nations of the Commonwealth Games 2014.
At the race hit the business end though, it was Emma Pooley who made the first break with just 11km to go. She was then able to bridge a sizeable enough gap to the rest of the chasing group and break the bunch up slightly. Cromwell and Pasio followed but Armitstead was looming large. As the sun glowed serenely on Kelvingrove Park, Pooley was playing with the pack and Armitstead was glued onto the back wheel of Cromwell; loitering with intent.
Coming off Byres Road and up Great George Street, Pooley had an even larger lead, but Armitstead made a huge break uphill and breezed past Pooley, immediately distancing herself to her team-mate. Behind, Pooley was not backing off, all but ensuring an English one-two in the last few kilometres. With Archibald and Elvin tailing off, it was up to Pasio, Cromwell and Villusem to fight for third. An epic battle between Pasio and Cromwell resulted in a photo finish with the South African edging it by millimetres. But it was England’s day as Armitstead took the Gold in a major event at the third attempt. “I’m always on the podium but I don’t win that many races. It’s just a confidence thing”, Armitstead told the Guardian after the race. Pooley ended a fantastic career by taking her second Silver medal of the Games, “Don’t ask me if I’m disappointed with silver – I’m not!”
Quotes: The Guardian, 2014