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Bring Tour de France to Northern Ireland, says Lizzie Armitstead


Pedal power: Lizzie Armitstead was impressed after watching Northern Ireland host the Giro d’Italia in 2014

Pedal power: Lizzie Armitstead was impressed after watching Northern Ireland host the Giro d’Italia in 2014

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Pedal power: Lizzie Armitstead was impressed after watching Northern Ireland host the Giro d’Italia in 2014

World Road Racing cycling champion Lizzie Armitstead believes Northern Ireland is capable of hosting stages of the Tour de France following the huge success of the Giro d'Italia here.

Armitstead is one of 12 nominees for the 2015 BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) award, which will be presented in Belfast on Sunday night.

The 26-year-old has made the list on the back of the best 12 months of her sporting life, when her dream of becoming Road Race World champion came true.

The Yorkshire lady knows Ireland well. She is engaged to Donegal man Philip Deignan, who is a top class rider himself. They will get married in England next September. By then, Armitstead hopes to have become Olympic champion in Rio.

In the future she would relish watching her hubby, who races for Team Sky, compete in the Tour de France in Northern Ireland.

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin told the Belfast Telegraph in May that the country should target bringing the Tour here after the huge impact of the Giro d'Italia in Northern Ireland in 2014.

The first three days of the Giro took place here last year with tens of thousands of people turning out to support the event and millions more watching on television around the world.

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The Giro is big, but the Tour de France is the biggest cycling event of them all.

In the past some of its stages have taken place outside France with last year's Tour starting in Armitstead's native county of Yorkshire.

"If you can host the start of the Giro, why not have the Tour de France in Northern Ireland?" Armitstead told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I watched coverage of the Giro in Northern Ireland and it was a big success. There was a real appetite amongst the people of Northern Ireland for the Giro and I'm sure it would be the same for the Tour.

"The Tour has been in Yorkshire and it is a massive operation. It is like a big circus coming to town and is an amazing sporting spectacle. It would be fantastic to see it in Northern Ireland one day."

Armitstead's views will go down well with the large cycling fraternity in Ulster. Her thoughts on what happened to Northern Ireland's greatest female rider Wendy Houvenaghel at the London Olympics will also be of interest.

When Armitstead was a track rider, she raced with Houvenaghel many times - they won the 2009 World Team Pursuit title together.

In the 2012 Games, they were both in the British squad but with contrasting results. Armitstead picked up Team GB's first medal - a silver in the Road Race - but the county Londonderry woman went home with nothing after being left out of all three Team Pursuit races as Dani King, Laura Trott and Jo Rowsell won gold in a world record time.

"I've a lot of fond memories of competing alongside Wendy," said Armitstead.

"I know Wendy wasn't given the chance to race in the Olympics and therefore missed out on a medal which must have been brutal for her.

"Had she raced I still believe the GB team would have won the gold medal. It was a tough decision for the coaches to take."

Armitstead adds that she is honoured to be on the SPOTY list and is comfortable with her nomination alongside boxer Tyson Fury, whose controversial comments have angered some of her rivals.

She said: "It's the judging panel who decided the list and I think the best thing I can do is stay on that list and represent my performances this year. I'm really happy to have made the list. It is more important to focus on the fact that more women are being recognised for their sporting achievements."

Lizzie Armitstead is nominated for BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015. Live from Belfast on BBC One, 18.50pm, Sunday December 20.

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