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Super Silver

Richard Moore blogs on Lizzie Armitstead's superb silver performance as the road racer lands Great Britain's first medal of London 2012

Richard Moore - Richard Moore Posted 29th July 2012 view comments

If ever there was a case of a silver medal being won, rather than a gold lost, this was it.

Lizzie Armitstead sprinted to second in the women's road race, and Britain's first medal, on day two of the London Olympics, but at the finish she was beaming, her smile rivalling that of the winner, the peerless Marianne Vos of Holland.

Lizzie Armitstead: Silver for Great Britain

Lizzie Armitstead: Silver for Great Britain

Armitstead was shivering, too. With Vos and Olga Zabelinskaya, of Russia, she had just ridden 41km at full pelt; an hour of what cyclists call through-and-off, each one of the trio taking a turn at the front, then slipping to the back for a brief rest before contributing once again to the pace-setting.

It was a team pursuit from the Surrey hills to central London through lashing rain and a colourful canvas tunnel of umbrellas. The crowds were out in almost as many numbers as for the men's road race on Saturday, and on this occasion the race delivered the British success they had craved 24 hours earlier.

Success? A silver medal was certainly that, for one very good reason: Vos. The Dutchwoman is one of the greatest and most versatile female cyclists of all time, an eight-time world champion, though her palmarès perhaps does not feature the major road racing titles that it should -- and does now.

Vos, who finished second in the women's road race five years in a row, thoroughly deserves her Olympic gold medal, not least because, with Armitstead, she was so fully committed to their attacking move. It was over the top of their second and last ascent of Box Hill that Zabelinskaya slipped clear on her own, with Vos, Armitstead and the American Shelley Olds bridging up to the Russian and all four joining forces.

Although the unfortunate Olds dropped out of the break with a puncture, and Zabelinskaya suffered a bad patch, and couldn't contribute quite as much as her colleagues, Vos and Armitstead worked tirelessly to keep the momentum going, while, behind, the Germans, Swedes and -- after Shelley Olds' misfortune -- the Americans piled on the pressure at the front of the peloton.

Twenty seconds... 25... 28.... 25... 37 - the gap from the leaders to the chasers stretched, contracted, hovered. It was tantalising and thrilling and agonising and every pedal rev' counted - even the line they took around every corner counted - as Vos urged the trio on.

It seemed that if the speed dropped a fraction the Dutchwoman was back on the front, providing a fresh injection of pace. It wasn't an even fight - three riders against the whole pack - but gradually the lead expanded, and consolidated, and the pursuers, knowing that they were only nibbling at the trio's advantage, began to lose heart.

"We went from about 35 seconds to 50 seconds and I thought: this is looking good," said Armitstead at the finish. "I kept asking for time checks but there weren't any. But once you're committed to that sort of move you've got to keep going."

Yet it was perhaps only as they were sweeping down from Hyde Park Corner towards Buckingham Palace, inside the final kilometre, that the leaders could be fully confident of staying away and sharing the medals.

They remained perfect allies until the final 2km, when Armitstead missed a couple of turns, and Vos kept a nervous eye on her as she lurked at the back.

Still Vos didn't shirk, going to the front to lead out the sprint, with Armitstead shadowing her, and Zabelinskaya third, as they rode down the Mall and towards the finish. Finally Vos jumped first, and Armitstead responded, but she was always chasing, closing to half a wheel on the line.

Shivering at the finish, Armitstead briefly wondered whether the outcome might have been different had she opened the sprint and tried to catch Vos unawares, but any regret was fleeting. She was happy, she said.

It was all remarkably reminiscent of the second day of the Beijing Olympics, when, in similar wet and cold conditions, Nicole Cooke won gold in the same event.

Four years ago that kick-started a British gold rush. "Hopefully the GB ball is rolling now," said Armitstead.

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