The Tab Meets: Lizzie Armitstead
BETH SWORDS talks to Lizzie Armitstead about the demands expected of her outside of sport, after her silver medal at the London Olympic Games.
Lizzie Armitstead won Britain’s first medal at the London Olympic Games 2012 in the cycling women’s road race. She has continued to capitalise on this success with a recent win in the British National Road Racing Championships.
She talks to BETH SWORDS about how the demands on an athlete are so much more than performing in the sports arena.
How did you first get into cycling?
It was part of a talent identification programme when I was 15, where a ‘talent team’ came out to my school in Otley, my hometown. I was scouted and got put with a coach.
You won Britain’s first medal at the home games. Just try and describe some semblance of that feeling.
Part of me regrets not making a diary for those weeks after I won the silver. Everything just went by so quickly. It was such a ridiculous experience with opportunity after opportunity. I was turning down invitations to things that before I couldn’t have dreamed of being invited to.
Was the pressure from a home crowd overwhelming? How did you deal with it?
I didn’t really feel it, to be honest. The pressure wasn’t from the outside. I get into ‘the zone’ quite naturally. I always think you are cycling for yourself and no one else. It doesn’t make sense to get panicked by what people think you should do. At times, there is pressure from sponsors because they’re giving you funds to perform but I’m someone who rises to the occasion. Some people perform consistently, some rise to the occasion. I do the latter.
Clearly, the level of commitment is extremely high. Where did education come into it? Is a Cambridge degree compatible with a future in international cycling?
I’m not going to say no but it’s a full-time sport. There are some athletes who can do both. But, with something like cycling, it’s not a sport that you can juggle – there’s a lot of travelling, your team might be based abroad (mine is in Holland) and you’ll be racing a minimum of 70 times a year. You have to realise that none of the Olympic medallists in cycling got a degree.
Being the first to win a medal, you were made into a national icon for women in sport. How did and how do you feel about that?
To be honest, I found it quite a struggle. I was immediately made into a voice for feminism and I wasn’t ready for that.
What’s your response to talks about a women’s Tour de France?
Yes, so this is an example of me being linked to a feminist movement in sport. People insist that it is my responsibility to get onboard. I think a women’s Tour de France is definitely an important point to raise but what women are offered doesn’t always have to be equal to men. You’ve got to be realistic as to what women are physically capable of. The current petition is silly because it’s pushing for three full weeks of racing, like the men’s race. This is unrealistic.
With London 2012, sportsmen and women are much more in the public eye. They’re expected to have an opinion on a lot of things. How do you feel about that?
There are a lot of politics – something that I didn’t expect. I struggle with it all, actually. When you’re talking to journalists, you can tell they have an agenda and write up what I say not in a way I intended it to come across. This upsets me because I am a passionate person. I do have strong opinions that I don’t want to dumb down just for fear of coming across in a bad way.
Drug cheats are quite topical, at the moment. Cycling has always been criticised for them being so rife. How do you think such a culture can be beaten?
I think lifetime bans are key. If athletes are given second chances, a new generation of cyclists will never overcome the old generation. I’m part of the ‘Whereabouts System’ where you can be tested anywhere, anytime.
If Yorkshire were counted as an independent country at the Olympics, it would have been 12th on the Medals Table. Now, it’s been named as the Tour de France’s ‘grand départ’ next year. What do you think this will mean?
It’s absolutely massive for the region, in terms of both tourism but also to further boost the profile of sport in the region. This has already been boosted massively because of the Olympic success.
What’s the key to success? Talent or tenacity?
You see both. There are really talented cyclists who don’t have to train as hard and vice versa. I think the key is being willing to sacrifice a normal life.
Lizzie looks forward to a hard winter of training and then the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next year.