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Lizzie Deignan’s ‘tough day at the office’ at Strade Bianche

Riding a spare bike beneath the blazing sun, Deignan crashed hard in the finale with no choice but to grind home bloodied and bruised.

“A tough day at the office,” is perhaps an understatement.

The people of Yorkshire are known for their dry, straight talk, and Yorkshirewoman Lizzie Deignan‘s description of Saturday’s Strade Bianche proves the point.

Having woken up to find that her race bike had been stolen, Deignan went on and battled through the bulk of a sun-drenched Strade on a spare bike before crashing hard while rolling in a powerful group of favorites. With the Trek-Segafredo team car unavailable, Deignan had no choice but to ride out the closing hour covered in blood, brusies, and white dirt.

“It was hard all day, fast from the beginning. And hot! Yeah, it was a tough day at the office,” Deignan told VeloNews when asked about a dry statement she had made on her Instagram feed.

Photos from the finish in Siena show the 31-year-old sitting, battered and exhausted, finally unwinding after a full-stress day.

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“I woke up late in the morning and checked my phone,” Deignan said in a telephone interview. “The first thing I saw was a message on my group WhatsApp from Ellen [van Dijk], saying ‘oh shit, that’s really bad news.'”

Deignan’s Trek-Segafredo team staff woke on race day to discover their team truck, which was parked backed against a wall to prevent thefts, with a hole cut through the roof. Inside, five of the six bikes set up and ready to be raced on the dirt roads of Tuscany – save for Elisa Longo Borghini’s – had been stolen.

“Elisa was alright, but obviously the rest of us had to race on spare bikes. Luckily most of us had our spare Emonda there – but Ellen had to use Koen de Kort’s [from the men’s team], ” Deignan said. “Riding a spare bike isn’t the end of the world, but small things, like the saddle being less worn-in, it all make a difference. It’s not exactly ideal for a big race like this.”

With many of the team riding their spare race machines, Trek-Segafredo started Strade with an assortment of bikes from other members of the squad on the roof of the team car, and very few of those were even the right size for the racing six.

Deignan and her teammates were left in a stitch in the all-too likely event of a puncture on the dusty Strade of Tuscany.

Of the six that started the day in Siena, only three rode their way to the finish, with Ruth Winder, Tayler Wiles and Lucinda Brand all registering a DNF. However, it wasn’t only the near-100-degree temperatures that put an end to their day, but the consequences of the overnight robbery.

“Ruth [Winder] had a double puncture, and she had to change wheels rather than her bike,” Deignan said. “But changing two disc brake wheels takes time, and with only one team car … she never made it back.”

Winder and her Trek-Segafredo team had their race bikes stolen overnight, leaving them riding spare of staffer's machines.
Winder’s race effectively ended with a double puncture. Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images

As the race unfolded, things were shaping up nicely for Trek-Segafredo, with Deignan and Longo Borghini in a bunch also containing Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen, and Marianne Vos. Not far up the road was the race-leading group.

However, Deignan’s race effectively came to an end at the moment that van Vleuten made her winning move, with the world champion accelerating from the bunch to bridge to the leaders and hunt down lone escapee Mavi Garcia.

The rider in front of Deignan hit the deck, leaving her nowhere to go but over the top of the fallen and into the dirt.

“I think it was one of those crashes where potentially I maybe would have been able to avoid it if the conditions were different,” Deignan said. “I think the heat definitely had an impact and played a part in it. I wasn’t sharp anymore. I was just cooked already.”

With the team car following van Dijk in the lead group ahead of Deignan, the Brit faced either a very long wait in the blazing Tuscan sun, or a ride home covered in swathes of road rash and bruising.

“I definitely wasn’t going to be stuck out there. My Garmin said it was 46 degrees… so I had to ride to the finish,” Deignan said.

The extreme temperatures and sun-baked gravel of the weekend’s race finished nearly three-quarters of both the men’s and women’s field. Under such conditions, completing the race was almost as much something to celebrate as a podium-position.

“I think everyone was okay until the longest gravel sector where it was nine-point-five K of gravel,” Deignan said. “The heat was almost reflecting off the stones and there was this cloud of dust around you that’s just hot – it was like being in a heat cloud. Suddenly, there was a massive change. You could see it in everyone’s faces – you could tell some were just not even present.

“I think for some people, it was just about survival. I’m amazed that some still had the presence to race.”

Not many did survive the women’s race, with only 45 making the finish out of around 120 starters. Deignan and her spare bike came home 37th overall, nearly 12 minutes behind winner van Vlueten.

Some day in the office.