LIZZIE ARMITSTEAD admits to being “gutted” that she will not be competing in this year’s Tour de France.
The world’s greatest cycle race remains the exclusive domain of male riders and there is no women’s equivalent.
But Yorkshire’s finest road cyclist, a vocal campaigner for equal rights for women in cycling, will be very much involved in what promises to be the biggest-ever celebration of the sport in the UK.
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Stage 1 of Le Grand Depart passes through Armitstead’s hometown of Otley on July 5 on its way to Harrogate.
The 2012 Olympic silver medallist will spend the weekend working as an ambassador for the Festival of Cycling at Harewood House.
As part of her role, she will be leading rides of two sections of the route, meaning participants will be able to ride out and watch the pros in special vantage points.
The 25-year-old, who rides for Boels-Dolmans, said: “I’m obviously gutted that I don’t get to race in the Tour but there is a silver lining.
“I get to spend time with my friends and family and really soak up the atmosphere of the race coming through my hometown.
“Most of my time over the weekend will be spent supporting the Festival of Cycling.
“I’ll be looking after the VIP guests and giving them an athlete’s insight into what is going on.
“I’m also looking forward to taking a big group of cycling fans on one of my training routes on the roads around Harewood House.”
Armitstead, who lives in the south of France, will be as passionate as any other cycling fan when she watches the Tour pass through her home county.
The former Prince Henry’s Grammar School pupil added: “I’m actually looking forward to cheering the race from the side of the road with my friends and family.
“The atmosphere will be amazing and I think people will be shocked at how big it’s going to be.
“People will love the festival atmosphere and I really hope they will be inspired by it.”
Armitstead retained her lead in the World Cup by finishing second in the women’s Fleche Wallone race in Belgium on April 23.
It was the third consecutive time that she had finished in second place after opening the season with a win in the Ronde van Drenthe.
Armitstead, who also claimed the runners-up spot in the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Tour of Flanders, said of the Tour de France: “It’s gruelling but what you’ve got to remember is that it will get more punishing as they go through the mountains in France.
“Most teams I would expect would want a close finish in Harrogate on that first day.”
Naturally, Armitstead is rooting for her male Yorkshire counterparts such as Scott Thwaites (Team NetApp-Endura) and Josh Edmondson (Team Sky) and hoping they will be selected to ride in the Tour.
She said: “Their main aim this year is to try and get in the Tour de France team.
“If they achieve that, it would exceptional because there are not many cyclists who get to take part in the Tour de France on their own doorstep.
“I was on the talent team programme, which is how I got into cycling, and Scott Thwaites was on the same programme as well as his older brother Mark so I know those two very well.
“I don’t know Josh as well but I certainly know Scott and would be really happy to be if he got into the team.”