Retirement is a long-forgotten thought in Lizzie Deignan’s mind.
After stepping away from racing during a spell of maternity leave in 2018, the Brit is back and welcoming a new age for women’s cycling with open arms. With a Flandrien world championships and lumpy Olympics on tap in 2021, the Trek-Segafredo rider is planning to ride for the next year and then some as she enters into the second phase of her illustrious career.
While the former world champion had signaled her intention to hang up her wheels at the close of this season after a shot at the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics, the 31-year-old is instead going to keep the pedals turning while the going’s good.
“I love my job at the moment, I love cycling, I love the team that I’m riding for. So at the moment, I don’t have any plans to retire,” Deignan told VeloNews. “I think that if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s ‘what’s the point in planning?’ Instead, it’s kind of, just go with it. While I’m enjoying it, I’m gonna still race.”
Deignan’s renewed passion for racing isn’t the result of handfuls of recent victories and accolades, but rather from time away from the bike as she mothered her daughter, Orla, now 20-months-old. Having come through the rigid structures of the British Cycling track system with its no-nonsense approach to training, racing and lifestyle, the freedom afforded by over 12 months away from racing changed the game.
“The start of my career was very business-focused, meal-focused … quite intense,” Deignan said in a telephone interview. “Then I went onto the road and made my way on the road, but was kind of always a business way of approaching it. For me, it had always been about winning.
“Since having my daughter, it gave me that break to really realize just how much I love my job. And, and it wasn’t just about winning bike races, it was about the enjoyment of riding my bike, the places it took me, and all the nice stuff.
“I feel like I get a second chance at my career now, having had that break to really appreciate it and to change the way I look at the bike.”
Deignan is now embarking on phase two of her time in pro racing with two major goals in mind: the 2021 world championships, slated to play out on the cobbles of Flanders, and the delayed Tokyo Games. Until then, all roads lead to next summer as Deignan prepares for a shot at the rainbow stripes and an Olympic gold medal.
Having made her name as a one-day specialist with victories at the 2015 worlds and 2016’s Strade Bianche and Tour of Flanders, the classics have a special place in Deignan’s heart, and the prospect of this October’s races are what kept her wheels turning through lockdown in Yorkshire.
“I’m daydreaming about the classics when I’m training at the moment,” she said. “I’m still looking ahead to the world championships next year. Hopefully, that is something that will not be changed or canceled or postponed and something that I can see as a tangible goal. Amstel, Tour of Flanders, the cobbles – anything that emulates a course similar to the worlds in 2021 is what’s motivating me this season.”
Like the rest of the women’s peloton, Deignan finds the prospect of a first-ever Paris-Roubaix this fall both daunting and scintillating.
“I’m just delighted,” Deignan said of the marquee addition to the Women’s WorldTour. “Yeah, I was really surprised to see that, despite a pandemic and all the rest of it, women’s cycling is still having this amazing kind of pivotal moment, I think is quite a huge step forward. I’m really excited by it.”
Despite having raced on the cobbles of Belgium handfuls of times, the gnarled pavé of northern France represent a different challenge from the short stony bergs of Flanders.
“It daunting, definitely,” Deignan said. “But I’ve never done them before. So, you know, I think if I imagine the worst, then hopefully whatever I find will be slightly better. A recon is of course essential!”
The addition of Paris-Roubaix to the calendar, the expansion of Challenge by La Vuelta, and the possibility of a women’s Tour de France in the near future add new energy to women’s cycling – just at a point where Deignan has come back to the peloton and is raring to keep competing.
And just as maternity leave has renewed Deignan’s love of the bike, it hasn’t taken the edge off her winning instinct. The new mother came back strong last spring, taking a top-10 in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, just her third race since her absence from the peloton. Two months later, she went on to take a stage win and the GC at the OVO Energy Women’s Tour.
For Deignan, the winning needn’t stop there. With fresh passion and new races to target, the Yorkshirewoman just wants to get racing and start the pedals turning in the second chapter of her career.
“The restart is definitely a second opportunity to strive for wins again, and like I say, women’s cycling’s at a point where it’s growing,” Deignan said. “So now I get to be able to target a Paris-Roubaix, which I never dreamed of being able to do a couple of years ago. I’m just loving it at the moment and really excited to just get racing again soon – I hope.”