With Armitstead a certainty to lead the team, given her status as world champion, and Emma Pooley eyeing up a return to professional cycling and a possible tilt at the time trial and road race, the team selectors have a number of tough decisions to make over the coming months.
“In terms of places, it’s more than likely to drop to three so that’s what we’re predicting at this moment in time although we sit here holding four,” Great Britain’s head coach Shane Sutton told Cyclingnews.
“There’s a long list and that’s about to be turned into a short list very soon. I’ve had some discussions and emails today with Emma Pooley and everyone is well aware of her ambitions to come back and ride the time trial and road race.
“Lizzie has come up with dates for travelling and her entourage that she will have around her. That’s all been done, and on the periphery of that we have the likes of Nikki Harris, Alice Barnes, Hannah Barnes, Lucy Garner, and Dani King. We have quite a big group that we’ll be looking from, with the likes of Jessie Walker also.”
The course in Rio certainly suits a rider who can climb and Armitstead will certainly fancy her chances if she can replicate the form that helped her win the World Cup and the World Championships in 2015. Pooley is a pure climber and although she has concentrated on middle distance trialthons, she won an Olympic time trial medal in 2008. Her and Armitstead combined well in the Commonwealth Games in 2014, when Armistead came away with the gold medal and Pooley the silver.
“At this moment in time it very much looks like Lizzie and Emma will be on the start list and then with the third spot we’ll pick the best of the rest,” Sutton told Cyclingnews.
“You’ve got to look across the board so Alice had another good Worlds experience. She has the mountain bike pedigree and Rio is very much a climber’s circuit. Dani King performed well on the road last season and has ambitions. We’ll get to see more when the first World Cups start later this spring. For certain, Alice is a prime candidate for me when it comes to climbing ability. Nikki, having had the season she’s had, can she now transfer that to the road?”
Harris has recently transferred to Armitstead’s trade team and will turn away from cyclo-cross in order to boost her chances of making the road team. Pooley, as of yet, does not have a women’s trade team place for 2016 but Sutton believes that such a factor will not stand her way.
“We don’t believe that that’s a definitive need. Emma is very much an individual and she’s very much got her mind set. She’s been a silver medallist before so she knows what it takes and she has a support network here that she’s going to need. We’re fully behind that and she’s complied with everything that been asked of her so far. From my point of view, I don’t think that she needs a team.”
“By Lizzie’s own admission and by looking at the demands of that particular course, I don’t think it’s about having riders there to always support you. I think that the race is going to fall away from behind anyway. It’s going to be a race attrition and who better to have next to you in that scenario that a purist climber. If needed, no doubt that Emma would play that role if something needed to be created or closed down. That’s probably the role that we’d be looking at for Emma.”