Lizzie Armitstead took silver in the heat and dust of a women’s road race here which she described as being “like riding in a hair dryer”.

The 21-year-old from Leeds was less than a bike’s length behind Australia’s Rochelle Gilmore at the finish line on Parliament Street, having overtaken Wales’s Olympic champion Nicole Cooke in the final 15 metres of the 112km course and got her wheel fractionally ahead of Australia’s Chloe Heskey.

“It was a bit of a messy race with New Zealand pushing on,” Armitstead said. “When it came to the end we took it out and went away with about 100 metres to go. I saw the gold of Australia go past, and it was a case of ‘better go now.’

“It was a fantastic race – I had such good support from team. They all deserve medals.”

Although Armitstead arrived at almost the perfect place in the end, being credited with the same time as the winner, 2hr 49min 30sec, her race was far from smooth.

She hurt her right foot when she hit a barrier on the course, and the support of her team members was affected by another crash which diminished the effectiveness of the help Sharon Laws could offer.

Laws was caught in a minor pile-up on a corner on the fifth of the eight laps, and had to ride a replacement bike for a lap, with Emma Trott dropping back twice to bring her back into the running.

“I was involved in a crash and the officials took a long time to sort it out,” Laws said. “After that I was not a lot of use really. I had to change the bike twice and I wasn’t able to help at the front as I had hoped.”

Lucy Martin commented: “We were all working for Lizzie. We had trained for gold, but we are pleased with our effort overall.”

All the riders finished with their faces caked with dirt. “I struggled with the heat, to be honest,” Armitstead said. “It was like riding in a hair dryer, quite hard to breathe. But it was the same for everyone.

“But the course was fine, and beautiful - especially the bits round the India Gate.”

Cooke – who finished fifth - was left without effective support as three of her Welsh team-mates dropped out, one because of an early crash, the others through fatigue.

New Zealand tried frequently to achieve a breakaway, but were reeled back in every time by a combination of Australian and English effort. 

Lisa Martin was the next English finisher, 14th in 2:49.38, with Liz Colclough credited on the same time in 16th. Laws finished 28th in 2:49.45, Emma Trott and Emma Pooley were 33rd and 34th respectively in 2:50.17 and 2:50.19.

Alex Dowsett was the highest English finisher in a men’s race where the big favourite Mark Cavendish, with 15 Tour de France stage wins to his name, ran out of support from his Isle of Man team-mates and rolled disconsolately across the line in fifth place.

Ahead of him, Australia’s Allan Davis took gold in 3:49.48, with silver going to Hayden Roulston of New Zealand and bronze to Scotland’s David Millar.

Dowsett clocked 3:54.08, with Eric Rowsell 38th in 3:57.10, Chris Frome 44th in the same time, and Simon Yates a place and two seconds behind him.