Ace Lizzie rides in to home town with Olympic medal in her sights

Wharfedale Observer: Lizzie Armitstead Lizzie Armitstead

Otley cyclist Lizzie Armitstead returned to her roots this week as she geared up for the biggest year of her fledgling career.

With cycling set to harvest a sizeable medal haul for Great Britain at this summer Olympic Games in London, Armitstead could rise to international prominence when she competes in the 140km road race on July 29.

The 23-year-old says she aims to compete in the annual Otley Town centre Cycle Race on June 20 and will step up her training in France, Belgium, Italy and Holland as she prepares for the Olympics.

Despite her hectic schedule in the build-up, Armitstead found time to visit her old primary school – The Whartons in Otley on Tuesday – where she spoke to pupils about what makes a good cyclist and, not least, her dream of winning Olympic gold.

Armitstead – who will be riding for the AA Drink-Leontien.nl team in 2012 – was back in her home town in her role as an ambassador for Hornby.

She said: “This is the first time I’ve been back to The Whartons since I finished here and it brings back a lot of happy memories.

“My mum, dad and brother still live in Otley and so do my grandma and grandad.

“My sister lives in Idle in Bradford so she isn’t far away, either. It’s always nice to be back home.”

Armitstead was blessed with an ideal cycling environment right on her doorstep and was identified as a possible star of the future on the Prince Henry’s Grammar School playing fields in her mid-teens, shortly after the decision to award the Olympics to London.

She never looked back and has since enjoyed a vast array of success, with her sights now firmly fixed on Olympics.

“It would mean an awful lot to win a medal,” said Armitstead.

“I don’t know how to explain it yet because I’ve not got one. It’s just something that I’d absolutely love to be able to do.

“As a female cyclist it’s definitely the pinnacle and there it nothing bigger than the Olympics.

“I’m not sure what to expect and obviously I’ve never had so much media attention so far away from a competition before.

“It’s going to be huge, but I’m trying to think about it as just another race.

“Everybody is talking about the Olympics, even my friends who aren’t into sport.

“Everywhere you go it’s Olympics questions, so it’s quite daunting, but I find the bike a bit of an escape from it all when I’m just out there training and riding.”

Ideally Armitstead, a world champion on the track and national champion on the road, would ride in both disciplines next summer.

However, Olympic regulations dictate the omnium rider must also come from the group which competes in the team pursuit, an event so demanding that all riders must be totally devoted to the cause.

The scenario meant Armitstead, who won world team pursuit gold in 2009, had a decision to make and she chose the road over the track.

She explained: “It just became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to combine both the track and the road.

“I’m in a position where I’m able to do something I love and I wasn’t loving the track any longer and I really was loving the road.

After being the nominated leader for September's World Champion ships in Copenhagen, Armitstead, the National Road Race champion was held up in a late crash, recovering to finish seventh, while Olympic champion Nicole Cooke claimed fourth place.

Following the race, Armitstead confronted the issue and accused her Great Britain team-mate of riding “for herself.”

But she said this week: “Nicole and I aren’t best mates but we can definitely be professional colleagues with each other and I have a lot of respect for her as an athlete.

“We don’t have issues at all. We had a conversation that was exactly how it was portrayed in the media, so it’s no big deal.”

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