Analysis: Can Lizzie Armitstead defeat Marianne Vos?

Is the rainbow jersey realistic for Lizzie Armitstead in the women's road race at the 2014 world championships?

“I’ve ticked off two career goals this year with the Commonwealths and the World Cup,” Lizzie Armitstead said on Thursday in Spain at the world championships.

“There are just two to go: the world championships and the Olympics.”

The Olympics will have to wait two years, however the elite women’s road race in Ponferrada on Saturday afternoon perhaps provides the London 2012 silver medallist with her best ever shot at getting her hands on a rainbow jersey.

“I think I have a genuine chance of winning it,” Armitstead added. “Normally you have to come to these interviews and say, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve got a chance,’ when you don’t really believe it.

“But I actually believe it this time, and that’s why it’s quite nice.”

The course isn’t perfect for Armitstead, who explained she would have to “hang in there” on the longer of the circuit’s two climbs. However she’s riding high with confidence from the Commonwealth Games and a recent Spanish training camp close to the course.

The only problem is that in order to win in Ponferrada she will once again – as ever – have to beat the formidable Marianne Vos.

“To win the world championships you’ve got to beat the rest of the world, but you have got to beat Marianne Vos,” Armitstead added.

“All the time, she is the one to beat.”

So can Armitstead do it?

Well if you look at the stats, it doesn’t look so good for the 25 year-old from Otley. Of the 20 times they have come head to head this season, Vos has got the better of Armitstead 18 times.

Armitstead may have won the World Cup and Commonwealth Games, but none of her wins in what has been her best season to date have come when Vos has been in the field.

On the sole occasion Armitstead has finished higher than Vos in a road race – during La Fleche Wallonne where she came second – it was Vos teammate Pauline Ferrand-Prevot who took victory. The Frenchwoman incidentally is Armitstead’s pick of the bunch for Saturday.

Nevertheless Vos has been a long way from her invincible self in recent weeks. She was dropped by her teammates last Sunday during the women’s team time trial. On the one hand it meant she avoided a heavy crash; on the other, the crash ruled her two most important teammates, Annemiek Van Vleuten and Anna Van der Breggen, out of Saturday’s race.

“Her [Vos’s] form in the last couple of weeks hasn’t been great, and I don’t think it’s a show, like people have suggested,” Armitstead said.

“I think she’s genuinely not in the best shape.”

“Previous to the crash… I would have been like, ‘well how am I going to cover the full Dutch team.’ Now they’ve got nine riders but only two that are capable of winning the title, that’s Vos and Ellen Van Dijk. So the Dutch have become less of a threat really and it’s more about the Italians.”

Vos and Armitstead sprint, London 2012 Olympics, women's road race

Realistically Armitstead will be the sole survivor of a very young British team when it gets to the pointy end of the 127.4km race, which will be an unusual situation for a rider who this season has benefitted from one of the best teammates going: Dutch rider Van Dijk.

“It’s going to be a real poker match,” Armitstead added. “I’m going to have to be patient, I’m going to have to not jump after everything.

“It will be strange to be up there with Ellen Van Dijk and her not be on the same team. Normally I say to my teammates, ‘just give me a little bit of an ego boost, just tell me I look good in the final of a race,’ and they do that and it does help.

“I’m not going to be able to turn to her [Van Dijk] and say, ‘come on, give me some rubbish Ellen!’”

It’s shaping up to be a thrilling race: Armitstead, enjoying the best season of her road career, versus Vos, coming off the boil. Don’t forget the likes of Emma Johansson either.

Although you discount a triple world champion at your peril, perhaps on Friday night in the Dutch team hotel Marianne Vos might just be thinking:

“Can I beat Lizzie Armitstead?”


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