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Before Lizzie Deignan pumped her fist to celebrate her victory in downtown Liège on Sunday, she zipped up her jersey to make sure that everyone could see the name that she was pointing to.
“I’m really, really delighted,” Deignan said at the finish line. “But I just want to dedicate this to Trek-Segafredo. It was a real team victory.”
With 30 kilometers of racing to go during the 4th annual Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, the British rider launched an attack from a nine-rider breakaway on the infamous La Redoute climb. Deignan held a gap over the diminished peloton all the way to the line, while behind, her teammates made sure to mark the counter moves. Trek-Segafredo’s Ellen van Dijk, who finished third, said that Deignan’s move was totally unexpected.
“We planned to create a break on the top of the Côte de Wanne, and we had a really great lead-out into it from Anna [Plichta] and Tayler Wiles,” van Dijk said. “Then I attacked on the top, and I straight away had a small group. Lizzie jumped across and, I was a bit surprised by that because it wasn’t really in the plan. It was really good because she pushed the pace in the breakaway, and soon, we had gained a lot of time.”
Deignan credits her confidence to make her race-winning move to the unwavering support and cohesion of the team behind her. In only its second season in the Women’s WorldTour, Deignan says that unity has been a priority for Trek-Segafredo since its inception.
Through the 2020 season, the team’s cohesion has been visible.
“Obviously, we had last year as our first year together,” Deignan told VeloNews in August. “It takes time to build relationships and trust, but I could already feel in February that we got that, that everyone had clicked. We all push each other in training. If you’re in a training camp where everyone is giving 100 percent it brings the level higher. Obviously lockdown was tough for everyone, some more than others like Elisa Longo Borghini and Audrey [Cordon Ragot], but as a team, we supported each other really well.”
Deignan’s win in Liège on Sunday was her third Women’s WorldTour win this season, and the team has posted incredible results at every race they have started in 2020.
Before the coronavirus pandemic upended the season, American national champion Ruth Winder won the Santos Tour Down Under. A week later, both she and teammate Wiles finished in the top ten at the WWT season-opening Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. At the last race of the season before the shutdown, Trek-Segafredo’s former time trial world champion Ellen Van Dijk finished fifth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Then came the pandemic. With its riders scattered across the globe under varying degrees of lockdown, Trek-Segafredo could have seen a real divide among the team’s physical and mental health, yet somehow everyone returned to race fit and focused.
“As soon as we got racing, it clicked,” Deignan said. “Sometimes you can’t manufacture that. Luckily we’ve got a good group of girls who respect each other.”
The team is also lucky in ways that others weren’t this year. The global economic crisis did not leave the cycling world unscathed. Teams in both the women’s and men’s peloton reported financial losses and sponsorship crises. In April, Swiss UCI team Bigla-Katusha announced that it would lose both title sponsors and turned to crowd-funding for support before French fashion house Paule Ka saved the team. Also that month, former world champion Annemiek van Vleuten said that she took a significant pay cut to help ensure the survival of her Mitchelton-Scott team.
Deignan said that neither she nor her teammates were faced with such stress.
“We had full support from Trek during the pandemic, we were all paid in full,” she said. “We were never under any pressure worried about getting paid, or the things you take advantage of in a normal season.”
With the emotional weight of not knowing whether they were going to have a job or not due to the pandemic lifted, Trek-Segafredo’s riders have instead been able to lift each other up. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the dance between Deignan and her Italian teammate Longo Borghini.
At La Course, it was Longo Borghini’s repeated attacks that finally wore down race favorite Marianne Vos. At the Giro Rosa, Deignan and her teammates battled tirelessly for hometown favorite Longo Borghini, who won her first stage in the storied race and finished triumphantly on the third step of the podium overall.
Each of the athletes on the Trek-Segafredo’s roster is accomplished in her own right, yet Deignan says that being a part of the team is what allows them each to fully realize their potential, especially in the complex and complicated landscape of 2020.
“It’s been an up and down year for everybody, personally and professionally, and credit to my teammates, staff, and sponsors that I’m just able to focus on being a professional athlete because there are so many other things just now that are so difficult,” she said. “This is the simple part, and I’m supported by the best team in the world, so I feel lucky.”