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23 March 2016, 16:47
World champion Lizzie Armitstead will be competing for the biggest prize fund ever offered in a women's cycling race when she competes in the Tour de Yorkshire next month.
Armitstead confirmed her participation as organisers announced a total prize fund of £50,000, with £15,000 on offer to the winner - three times the sum Armitstead collected when she won the world championships in Richmond, Virginia last year.
The women's race on April 30 will follow a 135km route between Otley, Armitstead's home town, and Doncaster, the same roads on which stage two of the men's race will take place later the same day.
As the Tour de Yorkshire seeks to make its mark on the world of cycling, organisers see the women's race as the area where they can make the biggest impact in the short term.
"We're trying to seismically change the sport,'' said Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome To Yorkshire. "It is the most lucrative women's bike race on the planet.
"If you won all three stages of the men's race, and you took the general classification money as well, you would still be 40% worse off than the winner of the women's race. So that's a big difference.''
Armitstead skipped last year's inaugural event here, complaining the flat, 60km circuit stage for the women's race was not worth disrupting her European season for, but she was an obvious target for organisers to tempt here ever since the race start in her home town was announced in December.
"They didn't really give me much chance not to turn up did they?'' she said.
"I think it's good that if you put on a race you do it properly, so it's not just a token event. If I'm totally honest I think that's what last year's race was, just a token event. It's good to see that this year they're doing it properly, putting equal prize money out there and inviting all the best teams.''
But while she welcomed the increase in prize money - a move which should draw a highly-competitive field and boost the standing of the race - Armitstead cautioned against a focus purely on cash.
"There's so many things we need before we have equal prize money,'' she said. "I don't want races to be put off inviting me to race because they don't have £15,000 if I win it. I'd rather have the opportunity to race up the Cauberg (finish of the Amstel Gold Race in Holland, which has not had a women's edition since 2003).
"That's what I would like and I think those steps should be first in women's cycling.''
The Tour de Yorkshire has been added to the UCI calendar this year, meaning UCI points are on offer and that as much as the prize money could prove key in enticing a strong field here as the race falls shortly before the deadline to qualify for Rio.
Armitstead has enjoyed an outstanding start to life in the rainbow jersey, and her victory in the Trofeo Alfredo Binda at the weekend was her third win from four starts this season.
The 27-year-old usually races for the Belgian team Boels Dolmans but will compete in Yorkshire with Great Britain - a useful exercise in the build-up to the Olympics.
But for Armitstead the key attraction is getting a chance to race on home roads in her rainbow jersey.
"It's huge,'' she said. "When I first started, I remember Otley cycling club and it was an old fellas' group that met at the third lamppost on a Tuesday night and I didn't know where it was.
"Now it's massive, they have a junior programme at Otley Cycling Club, they have the junior fliers, girls and boys, my mum is out every Tuesday night on rides in the dark. It's huge, really huge. You can't go out on a Saturday without passing a group of cyclists.
"I'm pretty proud of Yorkshire and the tradition we have around cycling. An event like the Tour de Yorkshire will be accepted and celebrated.''