Written by Jen Offord

Health

Going for gold

No stranger to being saddle sore herself, our Jen Offord chats to world champion cyclist Lizzie Armitstead, before chucking out all of her pants.

Lizzie Armitstead (4)It might be fewer than 100 days until the next summer Olympics, but for road-racing legend Lizzie Armitstead, it’s not yet all about Rio. First of all she has to get through this weekend’s slightly smaller event, the Tour de Yorkshire.

Speaking at an event to launch a new range of gym equipment by sponsors Wattbike on Monday, Otley-born Armitstead said that it was a “huge event” for her friends and family.

It has taken Armitstead a while but she’s realised she needs to learn to ignore external pressures if she’s going to focus on becoming Olympic champion this summer – and make no mistake, Armitstead is “totally focused on gold” (unlike in 2012, when she admits she didn’t really know what she was doing – yet still bagged a not-insignificant silver).

“In cycling being a world champion is huge and wearing the yellow jersey is the most iconic thing. But in terms of sport, the Olympics translate to everybody – everybody understands an Olympic gold medal.”

The equality of the Olympics is important to Armitstead and she’s keen to make the point about the important platform the Olympics provides for female athletes. “My niece, for instance, she’s five years old,” Armitstead says, “She can watch the TV sometimes and say, ‘Where’s Lizzie?’ whereas at the Olympics she’ll be able to watch my full race – not just highlights as a token gesture.”

“’It really, really hurt my arse,’ I tell her of my cycle across America last year, before asking her the $64,000 question: ‘Does it ever stop?’”

It is those platforms that inspire others to give sports a try, after all, and she agrees that the more people are exposed to these, the more Team GB provides those role models, the more women will want to get involved.

“I’m from a family of very strong women. I’m incredibly inspired by my mum; I’m incredibly inspired by my sister. They’re both working mums, and both sporty as well,” she says, echoing the theory that children will follow the example parents set them in terms of physical activity.

“I’m very grateful I grew up in the household I did because being a woman was never something I considered would hold me back in sport, because it’s not like that in my family,” she continues. “I went to rugby with my brother when I was a little girl and I didn’t even realise that was strange. There were no different gender sports in our family. Everybody did everything and I think that’s been really important.”

On the subject of equality and family, it’s not been a great week for British cycling, as technical director Shane Sutton resigned following allegations of sexism – as well as discriminatory comments about the Paralympic team – made by Armitstead’s former teammate Jess Varnish, and corroborated by former teammate Nicole Cooke.

Twenty-five-year-old Varnish spoke out about the lack of parity between the men and women’s teams and alleges she was told she had a big arse, was “too old” and should “go and have a baby”, among other things. Many of the points Cooke went on to make will sound familiar to anyone who has spent much time in the world of women’s sport – that a woman has to be better than a man at what she does to command the same respect, for example.

Armitstead’s assertion that she was always treated equally by her family makes me want to start an embittered rant that, while she may never have been treated differently by her family, when she turns 30 she’ll realise how sexist the entire rest of the world is.

She’s about to get married, after all, so she’s ripe for the sweeping assumption that her career and everything else is over, ready to make way for a future of child-rearing – something assumed of so many women, not just those under the stewardship of Shane Sutton.

But I really don’t want to patronise someone with an Olympic medal so instead move on to another issue I imagine must be close to the women’s cycling team’s heart – “arse” pain. “It really, really hurt my arse,” I tell her of my cycle across America last year, before asking her the $64,000 question: “Does it ever stop?”

Lizzie ArmitsteadOf course I am not talking about my arse, as most cyclists will know. I hasten to add I’m not talking about my you-know-what either. I’m talking about a very distinct grey area betwixt the two. Armitstead of course knows this.

“Yes – I had that problem for years because I was riding on the wrong style of equipment,” she says, recommending that I go through the (no doubt humiliating) procedure of having my sitbones measured and getting a saddle based on the results.

“Don’t listen to a bloke who tells you, ‘Oh this saddle’s good,’ because they’re built differently,” she stresses. “Also, don’t wear underwear, and you must have tight shorts, which might feel uncomfortable but the key thing is, your chamois isn’t moving around – so it’s almost like you’re vacuum packed!”

And then, in what will not go down as my finest hour, in regard to the delicate balance of thin wedge of plastic and undercarriage management, I ask world champion Lizzie Armitstead, “So it’s not just a case of padding the shit out of it?”

Graciously, she replies with what’s really a motto for life: “Everyone’s different. It’s about not giving up and working on it – but also at the beginning accepting it’s going to take a little bit of time for you to get it right.”

@inspireajen

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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen