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Lizzie Deignan won’t sit and wait for a second rainbow jersey to land in her lap.
After winning the 2015 world championships in Richmond, Virginia, Deignan is willing to lose it all in order to claim a second set of rainbow bands in Flanders next week.
“I want to win, that’s it,” Deignan told VeloNews. “Once you’ve won one world title, you have the freedom of having nothing to lose in every other worlds that you do.
“And usually the best way of trying to win a world championship unless you’re dominant and the favorite going in is to be willing to lose in order to win.”
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Deignan will be hunting rainbows at next weekend’s road race despite being a half-watt from her prolific best through the season so far. The Brit took the top step after winning the GC in this year’s inaugural Tour de Suisse and the Giro d’Italia Femmes TTT in July, but she hasn’t enjoyed a solo one-day victory since last fall’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
But flying under the radar is just fine for Deignan. After learning the hard way at her home championships in 2019 that a moment’s hesitancy can see a race-winning move escape up the road, Deignan isn’t going to wait for the race to come to her on a parcours that makes for a hybrid of Liège and Tour of Flanders – two races she has won in the past.
“I probably could have got a better result in Yorkshire if I’d have been a bit more cagey. But I raced the same way there – I race for the win or nothing,” she said in a call this week.
“I always just race to win, I’m not really interested in the top-10 or a silver medal, and that won’t change in Belgium. I’m fortunate to have won the worlds before, it means I can be more aggressive. And this Flanders course suits me – I do well in these classics-style races. I’m excited for it.”
The perennial problem of defeating the Dutch
Deignan will be leading a young and inexperienced team at the worlds next week. Great Britain will take three riders who are 22 years old or younger to the road race, and it will be all-eyes on their 32-year-old captain to deliver.
Just like in almost every world championship Deignan has raced since winning in Richmond, the focus will be about how to undo the Dutch squad. The orange-clad army has won the past four worlds road races, and it’s hard to bet against them adding another rainbow jersey to the collection next week.
Deignan and other outside conteders like Marlen Reusser and Lotte Kopeckey will be racing against a Dutch team stacked with four former champions in Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen, Marianne Vos and Chantal van den Broek Blaak next weekend.
The prospect of being dismantled by the Dutch doesn’t impact Deignan’s “go big or go home” philosophy.
“Obviously the Dutch will be able to control. So we have to be a little bit more under the radar and play the underdog role and take our opportunities and race aggressively, with nothing to lose,” she said.
Despite the hype around van der Breggen and co., Deignan isn’t so sure it will be a one-team race next weekend. There are doubts over the fitness of the reigning champ van der Breggen after she stomped through the first half of the season, and Deignan senses other riders may be feeling post-Olympic fatigue or looking down the road to late-season objectives.
“The course will make for a really open race, but I think being an Olympic year changes things too. There’s a lot of tired riders, and riders with different mindsets and different motivations,” she said.
“There’s also the fact that the season continues quite a bit after the world championships. You know, we have Paris-Roubaix, The Women’s Tour, there are other big targets on people’s agendas as well. So I just think it could be a really open race.”
Riding on while rivals retire
Deignan will see the end of an old enemy at this year’s road race. Van der Breggen – the rider Deignan outsprinted in Richmond – will retire after the worlds at just 31 years of age, and her stranglehold on the women’s peloton will finally be released.
Deignan anticipates that van der Breggen’s absence will be strongly felt in the following seasons.
“There’ll be a gap [when van der Breggen retires]. She’s had a phenomenal career and in recent years, won so many races. It will change the dynamic of certain races when she’s gone,” Deignan said. “She will be missed definitely, but she’s going into a new role as a director so it will be interesting to see her fill up that space as well. “
Saturday’s road race in Flanders will make for a taste of the Dutchwoman’s exit. Van der Breggen’s post-Olympic downturn means she’ll likely play a support role for her all-conquering teammates before swapping her spot in the saddle for a seat in the SD Worx director’s car next year.
Deignan isn’t harboring any similar thoughts just yet. Despite floating the idea of retirement in recent seasons, the 32-year-old says she is still a long way from leaving the peloton.
“I’m putting retirement off for as long as possible! I just I really enjoy my job and just want to keep enjoying it for now,” she said.
A second world title in Flanders would no doubt set the stoke one step higher.