Armitstead leads adaptive Boels-Dolmans to Philly victory

Elizabeth Armitstead's victory in Sunday's Philadelphia International Cycling Classic pushed her to the top of the World Cup rankings

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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Evelyn Stevens came to Philadelphia with a chance at pulling off a Philadelphia International Cycling Classic three-peat, but even with history on the line, she was deferential to her new Boels-Dolmans teammates at the start of the race. Asked about her aspirations for defending her Philly title, she told VeloNews, “The team goal is a win, it doesn’t really matter who does it.”

“I have never raced this race with Boels-Dolmans and I have really strong teammates,” Stevens said. “The [Manayunk] Wall is still the Wall but it changes the dynamic slightly.”

U.S. national road race champion Megan Guarnier, 2014 World Cup winner Elizabeth Armitstead, and Christine Majerus also made the start in Philadelphia for Boels-Dolmans, one of the most successful teams in the top echelon of women’s cycling this season. It probably shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, then, seeing Stevens, Guarnier, Armitstead, and Majerus all at the business end of the race in the final few kilometers of Sunday’s race.

Guarnier and Majerus poured their efforts into keeping things under control in the face of several attempted late attacks, with Armitstead and Stevens lurking behind. As the peloton hit the Manayunk Wall for the final time, Stevens found herself out of position, but Boels-Dolmans had more than one card left to play, and the defending champion was able to look on with a smile as her teammate Armitstead powered clear at the head of the race to take the victory.

“We were going to go for me and I got in a bad position, and so then you just have to switch it up,” Stevens said.

“It worked out. You want one of us to win and it was a hard day,” she said.

“Lizzie is such a good rider and she deserves it, so it’s nice to keep it in our team.”

A victorious Armitstead compared the Manayunk Wall to the iconic Mur de Huy of Flèche Wallonne fame.

“It’s very similar to Mur de Huy. I guess it’s America’s Mur de Huy, there’s not much difference,” the race winner said. “The Mur de Huy is a bit steeper but the length of this [climb] and the real sprint into the bottom makes it just as hard. In the Mur it’s not quite as big a fight for position as it was there.”

That hectic fight for position forced Boels-Dolmans to adapt to the situation on the road for the second time in the race, and being able to adjust the approach on the fly proved crucial to the team’s victory. As Stevens was perhaps hinting at the startline, the team was set to work for her teammate Armitstead as things got under way. Near the end of the day, the quartet decided to alter the strategy, only to revert back to the original plan in the final moments of racing.

“The last lap we decided to work together for Evie,” said Armitstead. “The plan was, going into the race, to work for me, but we powered over the fifth climb and I said to the girls, ‘look, Evie is in better shape than me, we’re going for Evie.’ And then we lost Evie on the chicane into the climb, so you kind of just have to go with Plan C then and it was back to me.”

“Plan C” saw Armitstead take the race victory and the lead in the UCI World Cup standings, as the points she nabbed in the Philly Classic launched her into first place in that competition.

“I’m proud to wear it,” Armitstead said of the World Cup leader’s jersey she earned. “It’s a big deal.”

Armitstead pointed out, however, that the World Cup is not actually a major goal of hers this season, noting that it’s the individual races themselves that motivate her the most. As such, she’s not sure how likely it is that she will hold onto the lead all the way through the final World Cup race in August.

“To be honest it’s something that I’m not chasing and I don’t want to have that pressure on my back,” she said. “I’ve got a career [box] ticked with that from last year. We’ll just see how it goes.”

“There are only certain races that I’m really passionate about winning, and being consistent is not something that I’m that passionate about. I want to win the big ones.”

There are still plenty of “big ones” to come, and with her second World Cup win so far this season (after the Trofeo Alfredo Binda) and a collection of other major results, Armitstead is firmly ensconced as a favorite for a number of races on the calendar.

“Richmond is top of the list really,” she said. “I’ve got the national championships as well in a couple of weeks, so it would be nice to get back in the white jersey full time.”

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