It's been a big year for road cyclist Lizzie Deignan with two events on home soil: the OVO Energy Women's Tour – which she won in June – and next week's UCI Road World Championships, all after returning from maternity leave in April.
Deignan, an Olympic silver medallist and world champion, says she was hugely surprised by the Tour win: “I found the progression back really difficult and I was surprised by how quickly my race rhythm came back. It was really special to get my first win at home.”
Now she's hoping for a second home win in the 150km World Championship road race around Yorkshire, where Deignan grew up. She says she can’t wait: “I love racing in the UK, having the home crowd is definitely a huge advantage and women's cycling has kind of taken off in the UK – it's really changed in the last couple of years, the crowds are massive and it's always really fun to race at home.”
Training has been going well too, she says, although it can be hard to tell when you’re in the middle of it: “You're always tired, you know that you have to leave the freshening up and the good feelings for the race day. It's been a bit of a slog recently, but I think it's all been going in the right direction and I'll be as ready as I can be by the time the race is here.”
While Deignan normally cycles 15 to 20 hours a week, in the week leading up to the race this will drop to around eight hours giving her a much-welcomed break: “All the work is done and it's just time to enjoy that period of feeling fresh and waking up with loads of energy – it's a really nice feeling that you don't get for the rest of the season.”
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Home advantage is firmly on Deignan’s side but she says the course means the race could go either way: “It's undulating and it depends on how the race is ridden there, so it could be a negative race and it could end in a bunch sprint but I hope not.”
This will be Deignan’s first World Championship since giving birth to her daughter Orla on September 2018. She has been vocal about her journey back to professional cycling after pregnancy, and she thinks things are changing for sportswomen: “There have been some really positive conversations going on with brave athletes stepping forward and saying it matters like Allyson Felix about Nike and that will trickle down to all sorts of women now.” She adds: “I’m incredibly grateful for someone like her standing up for women's rights.”
I hope that after my example in road cycling there will be more women who follow in my footsteps
When it comes to cycling Deignan says: “I'm one of the very few mothers in the peloton so I hope that after my example in road cycling there will be more women who follow in my footsteps because it can be done and I think sponsors now are in a position where they have to be on board and support women going forward.”
So how has she found juggling parenthood with cycling? Deignan says becoming a parent has been a massive learning curve: “You do just literally learn on the job, so every day has been different. Cycling is very much my job, so that has its own place. Looking after Orla after training can be challenging at points, but it's still my job and I'm still able to do it professionally. Becoming a mum is an evolving balancing act.”
One area of road cycling that is still plagued by inequality is the Tour de France – there’s currently no equivalent for women – however, that could change soon as ASO, the event organisers, have announced that they’re looking into how they can rectify this. Deignan says: “What they've done for the women's Tour de France so far has been a bit of a token gesture. It's almost like if you don't want to do it then don’t – do it properly or don't do it at all. The idea of being able to put on a multi-stage race is really exciting and would be ground-breaking and great for our sport but I think they should do it properly.”
In the meantime, once the World Championships are over, Deignan’s attention will turn entirely to Tokyo 2020. In fact, she’s already working towards it: “I had to have the Olympics in the back of my mind to a certain extent because coming back from pregnancy is really difficult in terms of the physical challenge. You have to prepare your body with patience and if I just had the World Championships to think about then I may not put in all the groundwork that I have. I've set myself up to be even stronger next year.”
Included in this preparation is taking some time out to investigate the course. She says: “It's a real racers course, it’s quite an open course in that a sprinter or a climber could win it.” What does that mean for her race plan? “I'm one of the lucky ones in that I fall in between being a sprinter and a climber. It suits me and I'm excited about it."
There are reports that Deignan is planning to retire after the Olympics, but she says that’s not entirely accurate: “It came about because I talked about my immediate goals being the Championships and the Olympic games and then after that, I haven't considered what I will do.”
In fact, Deignan says she hasn’t decided: “Nothing is set in stone there are so many circumstances that will contribute to that decision like how we feel as a family going forward, what my husband wants to do, how Orla is." Either way, Deignan's time in the peloton isn't over just yet.
Lizzie is an ambassador for cycle insurance provider Cycleplan. For advice on how to keep you and your bike safe visit www.cycleplan.co.ukNews Now - Sport News