Lizzie Armitstead is not only one of the world’s top road riders, she is funny and refreshingly down to earth too. We caught up with the Boels Dolman rider to talk about cycling, life after cycling and how one packs for life on the road.
Lizzie, how did it all begin?
The talent identification programme came to the school with a load of bikes in a truck and gave us all a go in the school field. I really wasn’t interested, I was just messing around with some friends. But one of the lads who I have grown up with challenged me to race him. Thank god he did because that’s when I tried, otherwise I would have just pootled around!
What did British Cycling see in you that set you apart from your school mates?
At that stage it is purely physical, they are just looking to see who’s the fastest because at the end of the day, it is a high performance talent ID programme. So they see who has the capacity and then throughout the years, the people who dropped off were the people who didn’t have the head for it I suppose.
When did you realise cycling was going to become your profession?
I realised I had the opportunity running up to London to make the best of it, and I didn’t want to do it half and half so I committed to it after school. I moved up to Manchester to the residential track programme so there was that pathway for me on the track.
You recently returned to your roots and competed on the track at the Revolution Series in Manchester. How did it feel to be back on old turf?
It was a bit of fun. It was nice for me as the track girls are just coming up to the Track World Championships so they were under a lot of pressure and they were anxious. I recognised what I would be like with a month to go to the Road World Championships, it felt so nice to race for fun and not have the pressure.
Do you feel additional pressure to perform coming off the back of an amazing season like 2014?
It goes in roundabouts to be honest, if I look back on my off season I probably didn’t take enough down time or rest as I should have done as I was so keen to keep that form going. I mean on my holiday I was in the gym every morning so it took me a while to let it go. And then before Christmas it exploded and I fell off the face of the world for a little bit. But the Revolution Series was really positive as it reminded me that I am good, and it’s back to basics now. I am happy now.
What events are you focusing on in 2015?
The Tour of Flanders, National Championships and World Championships.
It feels like the tide is changing in women’s cycling at the moment and that it’s only up from here. What do you think?
I think there is a society issue with females in sport in general, it is not just about females in cycling. As a British rider, I feel there is massive growth in cycling in general so I feel really lucky to be a part of it at this time. I feel that sport in general and female opportunities within sport and women’s cycling are huge now. It has become attractive to be strong rather than skinny now. Those things are all positive steps.
In an ideal world what would women’s cycling be like?
In an ideal world it would be a non-issue. All my interviews are focused around sexism so it would be nice for it to be a non-issue and for me not to have to speak about it all the time – but that’s an ideal world!
You live in Monaco, what is it like as a place to call home?
Monaco is a slight Disney Land. It is what it is, it's a place where the rich and famous live. But I have a very normal group of friends. I am riding my bike everyday which makes a difference, I am out in the countryside, and I am travelling in and out all the time. I like when I am home in Monaco for a couple of days that I can look out my window and see all sorts going on and feel like I am part of it, but I don’t have to go out and do any of it. It is better than coming back to a sleepy old village.
You became a household name after London 2012, how did you cope with that new found fame?
I suppose I am realistic about it, I don’t feel like that at all. It is very rare that I am noticed at all on the street. I suppose the only thing that comes with it is judgement and you have to be a lot more careful about what you say and what you put out there. It’s not something I thrive on, or something that motivates me.
Do you ever think about life after cycling?
Every year as I get older, I think about what I am going to do. I think it is good to be prepared for a career after cycling but then I don’t think it will be in the public eye. I want to do something normal.
Any ideas what that ‘normal’ job might be?
You just get very used to being on the road and that worries me about normal life – whether I will be stimulated enough to stay in one place, to live in one place, to work in one place, I am not sure it will. I have the best job in the world. The training and everything else around it is really hard but every day is different and that is something I strive to have after cycling.
Life on the road must be tough, especially the logistics that come with packing?
I have a system, I am very systematic, my house is very in order. I have a bag that I leave with the team that travels with the team. I have a wash bag in there, I have double of everything that travels in that case along with my race bike. I only ever travel with hand luggage.
You always look fantastic, what are your beauty secrets?
The road is pretty rough on your skin and your hair so I always wear SPF. I don’t look good all the time, you should ask the girls!
We heard a rumour that you have some pretty good genes so your incredible hair and skin is all very natural?
[Lizzie roars with laughter] Good genes? Not true!!!!!
More importantly though, how crucial is good kit to your performance?
You put all the work and sacrifice into your job, it is everything. And then to ride a bike that is not aerodynamic or stiff, you might as well train less. So if I am putting 100% into my training then the performance support that I get from Specialized is equal to that. It gives me an advantage over the rest of the peloton. Our team has this high class performance structure that no other women’s team has and it makes a huge difference.
Is there any particular adjustment to your bike or kit that has made a particular difference to you?
For me, my shoes are my most valued piece of equipment. Specialized set me up with footbeds in my shoes and it has made a big difference to the way that I pedal. I was having back problems, but Specialized analysed me and noticed my left side is different to my right so have set me up to suit that. I am so much more comfortable now.
You get given great gear by sponsors, but surely not all of it can be the perfect fit? After all, women differ so widely, take a chamois for example, it is such a personal choice?
Kit is so important. If you have to wake up every single day and put on that kit that makes you feel ugly then it is not great so I am genuinely really happy with the kit we have at the moment. The chamois issue is not too bad. I unstitch the chamois, send it off to a company in Italy who stitch my favourite chamois in its place. Nobody would ever know.