OLYMPIC hero Lizzie Armitstead paid tribute to the miserable British weather last night after winning Team GB’s first medal of the Games in the rain-hit women’s cycling road race.
Huge crowds braved the elements in west London and Surrey to cheer on the British racers, encouraging Armitstead to a silver medal finish after she narrowly lost out to Dutch winner Marianne Vos in a thrilling sprint finish.
And the fleeting thunderstorms that visited the south east of England helped Armitstead pull clear of the peloton and make a burst for the podium.
“I’ve been praying for rain, particularly when we were in the breakaway and there was a real downpour – the break had more chance of working in those conditions,” an ecstatic Armitstead said after the race.
“I hate racing in the heat. The harsher the conditions the better for me.”
With around 45km of the 140km distance to go, the Brit broke clear along with Vos, Russian Olga Zabelinskaya and American Shelley Olds – although the latter subsequently suffered a puncture and fell back.
Once clear, there was no catching the breakaway trio, with Armitstead citing the previous day’s men’s event – in which Team GB’s cyclists failed to secure any medals – for her notably bold tactics.
“We saw in the men’s race that once a committed group goes, it’s hard to chase from behind,” she said.
“Vos was the one to watch, I was following her around.”
Vos and Armitstead crossed the line in three hours, 35 minutes and 29 seconds, with Zabelinskaya only two seconds behind.
Fellow Team GB cyclist Nicole Cooke could only manage a 31st place finish, while colleague Lucy Martin was the 48th competitor to cross the line, yet both were praised for their contribution to the medal.
“Lucy was fantastic in the beginning. I didn’t have to worry about being in the right position or anything,” Armitstead gushed.
“She did an incredible job. Pooley as always was smashing it over the climbs, which is perfect for me, an aggressive race. Nicole was there for the back-up plan, so it was good,” she added.
The elated silver medallist also paid homage to the home crowd for their support, using Twitter after the event to express her thanks: “Thank you to the thousands of people cheering who literally got me to the finish line, I’m incredibly proud of GB!” she wrote.
“It is the most special thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” she also commented after the race, referring to the atmosphere. “It’s so crazy and so inspiring. It was absolutely amazing. I didn’t even feel my legs, it was just so special.”
Enthusiastic fans will have another chance to support both the men’s and women’s cycling teams this week, with both individual time trials taking place on Wednesday, while the track events commence on Thursday.