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Lizzie Deignan aims to crush the cobblestones in 2021

Deignan puts the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, and the UCI road worlds in Belgium in her sights for 2021.

Lizzie Deignan is preparing for a bumpy 2021.

Deignan, winner of the 2020 UCI Women’s WorldTour overall, has her eyes set on the rough cobblestone lanes of Belgium and Northern France, which this year host even more top races than normal. In addition to Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, the region and its cobblestone streets will host the inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix in April, and then the UCI world championships in September.

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Deignan said her first objective is to be at her peak form for the heavy classics in the spring, even if it means sacrificing her climbing strengths for the hilly Ardennes races.

“I’m shifting my focus to the cobbled classics — Flanders and Roubaix — rather than the Ardennes week,” Deignan said. “You could kind of combine Flanders and the Ardennes, but now that there is Roubaix, I think you have to be a bit more specialist to be competitive in Roubaix. It’s a lofty ambition — I’ve never even ridden the cobbles there, and it seems a bit bold to say I want to win it. I definitely would love to be in my best shape there.”

Then, following the summertime Giro Rosa and Tokyo Olympics, Deignan hopes to hit a second fitness peak just in time for road world championships, a race she last won in 2015.

“I’m very excited about Flanders, and it’s a big goal of mine,” Deignan said about the upcoming world championships.

The 157km worlds course from Antwerp to Leuven will be similar to a Flemish cobbled classic, with plenty of flat, windswept roads that cater to powerful riders, punctuated by steep climbs, several of which are covered in cobblestones. The route includes a Flandrien circuit that features six climbs, and then a local Leuven circuit that includes four climbs.

Deignan said she’s had her eyes on the Flemish world’s course since it was announced several years ago. Throughout the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown, she kept the Flanders worlds course in her mind as a training objective.

“Ever since the first lockdown last spring I decided to focus on something tangible, and I was thinking long-term and was thinking of worlds in Flanders as a motivating factor to keep working hard,” she said. “At the time I didn’t know if there would be a season in 2020 and I was thinking a lot about Flanders. I’m very excited about Flanders.”

The focus on worlds and the cobblestone classics marks a narrower-than-usual focus for Deignan, who has emerged as one of the most versatile riders of her generation. Deignan excels in all sorts of terrain, and her storied career includes overall victories at stage races like the Women’s Tour (2016, 2019), victories in hilly events like Liege-Bastogne-Liege (2020) and the Boels Rental Hills Classics, and wins at cobbled classics like the Tour of Flanders (2016).

This shift is being driven by the addition of Roubaix, which Deignan would love to win. The women’s peloton was slated to take in the very first women’s Paris-Roubaix in 2020 until the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Being the first winner, in general, would be nice,” Deignan said. “I’ve said that it is definitely a goal of mine.”

Shifts within Trek-Segafredo may also steer Deignan’s focus in 2021. Deignan is the team’s co-leader alongside Elisa Longo Borghini, and throughout 2020 the duo emerged as a formidable foil against the team strength of Boels-Dolmans (now SD Worx) and the solo skills of Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) and Marianne Vos (CCC Team). The squad won the women’s WorldTour overall standings ahead of Boels-Dolmans.

For 2021 Trek-Segafredo is adding more firepower to its lineup with the additions of sprinters Amalie Dideriksen and Chloe Hosking. The presence of top sprinters could shape the way that Deignan and others on the team approach the races.

Lizzy Deignan won the 2020 GP de Plouay, on a rain-soaked course
Lizzy Deignan won the 2020 GP de Plouay, on a rain-soaked course. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

“We are all delighted that we have signed some sprinters,” Deignan said. “It’s been difficult at some races to go into it without having a sprinter because it means we’ve been aggressive at every single race — looking for a breakaway — and sometimes that can be tiring. It would be nice to go into a race and focus completely on the sprint and work on our lead-out.”

The sprint firepower, plus Deignan and Longo Borghini’s prowess, could help Trek-Segafredo take another step forward amid a transition year in the women’s WorldTour. Van Vleuten has moved teams to Team Movistar, and SD Worx will help its star Anna van der Breggen prepare for her Olympic defense; van der Breggen plans to retire at the conclusion of the season alongside teammate and fellow star Chantal van den Broek-Blaak.

Amid those shifting dynamics, Trek-Segafredo could become the sport’s dominant team. Nobody would like that more than Deignan.

“There was a quote in one of the team meetings that said, ‘Cementing greatness and performing is staying at the top,'” Deignan said. “It’s great that we’ve reached the top and that we are ranked the No. 1 team so quickly. But actually, the greatest and hardest thing to do is to maintain that level of performance. I think we are all in the same boat that we are completely determined to do that.”