sport

Armitstead relishing Tour

Lizzie Armitstead will relish the pressure of being the British champion at the Friends Life Women's Tour.

The 25-year-old from Otley is the star home name in the field which is without Joanna Rowsell, who has withdrawn due to illness, while Laura Trott will start for Wiggle Honda in Oundle on Wednesday despite suffering from laryngitis.

Armitstead won the British title - and with it the white jersey with red and blue bands for the following year - in Glasgow last June and claimed Britain's first medal of London 2012.

She finished with Olympic silver behind Holland's Marianne Vos, the most complete and dominant rider in cycling, men's or women's, and a rival for this week's race, which concludes in Bury St Edmunds on Sunday.

"For me pressure is always a good thing. I'm in good shape," she said.

"It's an honour to be British champion in Europe because people recognise you for something, even though the stripes confuse people a little bit. They often think I'm Dutch.

"It will be a really proud moment for me to wear the stripes in this race."

It was a thrilling Olympic race almost two years' ago when Armitstead was pipped on The Mall by Vos in torrential rain which encouraged race director Mick Bennett and Sweetspot, the race organisers, to embark upon the Women's Tour.

Bennett said: "It is our ambition that in three years we make this the biggest and best women's tour in the world.

"What inspired us to want to organise this was watching the women's Olympic road race, which was eons better than the men's Olympic road race, which we all felt was quite boring.

"It was the excitement of these women in pretty dreadful conditions and how exciting they made women's road racing and we thought 'my goodness' and we thought we had to take this and turn it into something special."

The plan is to move the event around the country, with Armitstead lauding the claims of her native Yorkshire, which this summer hosts the Tour de France Grand Depart.

Armitstead, with tongue in cheek, said: "I've heard the police in Yorkshire aren't so friendly.

"It's some of my team-mates' first time in England. It's nice to show them the countryside and everything, but obviously it's nothing compared to Yorkshire."

Armitstead races for the Dutch Boels-Dolmans team - in a six-rider line-up which also includes Trott's sister Emma - believing that will be an advantage in a race where the wind could have an impact.

She said: "The wind will be a key factor and I'm in one of the strongest teams to use that to our advantage, because the Dutch are notorious for riding in the wind.

"In Europe we're used to nice smooth roads and in the UK it's feeling a little like you've got two punctures. Hopefully those roads will be heavy enough to make it hard."

Laura Trott's role is likely to be a team one, working for Giorgia Bronzini and Linda Villumsen.

Race organisers will hope the double Olympic champion will be involved until at least Saturday's start in her hometown of Cheshunt, where she is scheduled to open the sports centre bearing her name and ride out ahead of the peloton alongside her elder sister.

Whether Laura Trott completes the race or not, Vos' presence ensures a sprinkling of stardust.

Vos, a multiple world and Olympic champion across a range of formats, said: "When I heard about the Women's Tour of course I wanted to participate. It's big.

"This year, 2014, I feel we're getting a change. Women's cycling gets more and more attention with La Course (in Paris on the final day of the Tour de France) and this race.

"After London I still have good memories of that race, with big crowds and all the people were so enthusiastic about cycling.

"I definitely wanted to come back here and race."