Infighting threatens British women's Olympic hopes
Start of women's road race, Road World Championships 2011
Lizzie Armitstead has revealed the problems with Nicole Cooke and fractious aftermath of September's World Championship road race in Copenhagen, which casts doubt on the ability of the women's Great Britain road team to ride cohesively at the 2012 Olympics.
It also comes in light of Armitstead's recent decision to focus solely on the road race in London next summer: she will be vying for team leadership with defending Olympic champion Cooke.
In Copenhagen, Cooke sprinted to fourth, while agreed pre-race team leader Armitstead recovered from losing position in a late crash to place seventh, crossing the line in tears. Cooke had been expected to lead out Armitstead in the race.
How did Nicole ride? "For herself, in my opinion," Armitstead (pictured below) told Cycling Weekly. When asked how often Cooke works for other GB team-mates, she said: "I've never seen her work for a team-mate."
In the post-race team meeting, Armitstead and GB boss Shane Sutton slammed Cooke. "I said exactly how I felt. And I'm really happy I did, because it's been an unspoken situation for too long," Armitstead said. "It needed to be out there. Someone needed to be honest about what was going on and why we didn't win a medal when we were capable of doing it. I was really disappointed.
"I had support in that meeting. It was a unanimous decision that Nicole didn't do her job properly."
Cooke refutes Armitstead's claim, underlining that she only sprinted for herself when she thought Armitstead's chances were gone. "I rode for the team and according to instructions given to me. It was a very difficult race tactically with some unlucky moments, but these things happen in cycling."
Asked if she expects to lead the team at the Olympics, she said: "Not at all, it will be quite simply judged on form in the lead-up to the race.
"I'll ride for whoever the leader is and I've been doing this throughout the whole of last season for my team. Saying the same problem won't happen again in 2012 is impossible as every race is so unpredictable, especially with crashes so near the end. That's cycling. The problem doesn't lie in the team."
Benching a star?
If harmony cannot be reached ahead of London 2012, it is possible that Armitstead or Cooke could be benched to ensure a team whole-heartedly behind one leader. But not taking the reigning champion would be a highly controversial move.
"It is a sticking point," departing British Cycling women's manager Simon Cope admitted. "Lizzie is the fastest at the moment. In Copenhagen, Nicole had an armchair ride to the finish, she didn't get baulked and she couldn't finish it. Armitstead was coming from far back, you could see her speed. But on a heavy day with bad weather, maybe you'd go with Nicole."
The men's Olympic places are decided already, but the women's team are right on the cusp of qualifying maximum places and need to consolidate their position with a strong spring next year. The final decision is made on May 31.
Road over track
After consulting friends and family, Armitstead told CW that she had made the decision to focus solely on the Olympic road race, eschewing her chances of glory on the track. "I think it is probably a better chance of a medal, but I don't want to get a medal only to be unhappy. I've seen too many Olympic champions that still seem miserable with it," she said.
Training in traffic around Manchester was "cracking" her, she added. Armitstead made her decision in late September following the National Track Championships.
For a full and frank interview with Lizzie Armitstead, buy the January 2012 edition of Cycle Sport, out in the shops from today.
For more on the Armitstead-Cooke dispute, look out for the November 24 edition of Cycling Weekly, out tomorrow.