Ahead of the 2019 season, the comeback of Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) was very anticipated. Opinions differed on whether Deignan could return to the highest level after sitting out 2018 due to pregnancy and signing for the new Trek-Segafredo team.
When she returned to racing at the Ardennes classics, Deignan performed well right away, being at the front end of the races and finishing seventh in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. She continued to show her good form at the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of California.
At the OVO Energy Women’s Tour, Deignan has truly returned to the very top, winning the mountainous queen stage through Mid Wales on Friday and taking the overall lead before the final stage, one second ahead of Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM). The last time Deignan stood on the top step of the podium was in late August 2017 when she won the GP Plouay one-day race. The victory in Builth Wells was the first after 657 days.
“It was very emotional,” said Deignan after the race. “It’s been a tough comeback. After becoming a mom, finding my feet again in cycling has been difficult. There have always been questions whether I made the right decision, today was massive validation that I did. I can’t quite really describe it; it was probably the nicest win I’ve had in a very long time. I really savoured it and really enjoyed it and I will do for a long time.”
Deignan went on the attack with her teammate Elisa Longo Borghini on the steep Epynt climb 20 km from the finish, and they were joined by Niewiadoma.
“It was instinctive. It wasn’t the plan, but I kept looking over at Elisa and noticed she was looking back at me. I just thought, ‘go on then, we’ll give it a try’. I went and Kasia took over then. Her takeover was much stronger than my initial attack and I kind of survived with them over the top. Then we worked together to the finish.”
Being the best sprinter in the three-woman group and having a teammate there to help, the pressure was on Deignan to deliver. “When you know that you’re faster on paper, you have more to lose. Elisa really worked for me in the final, adding even more pressure, but I perform well under pressure, so it was good. Thank you very much to Elisa, it was down to her that we made it to the finish with such a gap.”
Local knowledge of the stage played a part in the successful attack as well, Deignan told: “We knew there would be another stiff climb, uncategorized, after Epynt, and it was great to have been given that insight and know that was coming. The launch was on the categorized climb, but we really made the difference on that steep section after it.”
With only one second separating Deignan in the green jersey and Niewiadoma, Saturday’s final stage will be an interesting affair tactically. There are two intermediate sprints with bonus seconds on offer to the first three riders as well as time bonifications at the stage finish. The second intermediate sprint is situated at the top of a long, but unclassified rise and comes after the hard Black Mountain climb which could play to Niewiadoma’s strengths.
“It will be a big battle,” the Polish climber said. “Lizzie is strong and fast, so it will be extremely hard to beat her, although I still believe that there are some chances. We need to sit down with the team and discuss what we can do. It’s still close. I now regret certain situations on the previous stages where I lost a few seconds. But I just need to focus and see what we can do.”