By Shane Stokes
Following a good display of form in recent weeks, first year pro Philip Deignan is hoping to build up to a strong ride in the Tour de l'Avenir next month. The young Irishman impressed his Ag2R Prévoyance bosses when he won the Tour du Doubs in early July, placed fifth in the European road race championships in Moscow and then finished seventh overall in the Tour de la Région Wallonne. Deignan had a day's break, rode the Polynormande and then, two days later, started Paris-Corrèze. Despite feeling tired from the block of racing, he finished third on stage two and eighth overall, showing that he is coping well in his first season in the peloton.
Still just 21 years of age, Deignan is increasingly regarded as the best Irish talent on the block. He's pleased with things so far. "I wasn't sure how I was going to go in the first year," he told Cyclingnews. "But starting from the Route du Sud (where he was 20th overall) and the Tour du Doubs, it's been going well. I was little bit surprised to win the Doubs race but when the form is good, that is the way it goes.
"I definitely feel that I am a lot stronger than last year. For the last three or four seasons, I have progressed very steadily. Last year I was just a climber, but this year I seem to be a lot stronger on the flat as well. For example, the Region Wallonne wasn't particularly hilly. There were three or four kilometre climbs all right, but they were all real big-ring climbs. They weren't like the Pyrenees or the Alps.
"I think that is probably a big thing which has changed this year. I am a lot better on the flat. It's not down to special training or anything, I think it is just natural progression. I seem to get stronger as the years go by."
Deignan showed his ability last season with good rides against the pros in the Tour of Britain and the Tour de Langkawi, as well as victory in the under 23 world cup Ronde de l'Isard d'Ariège stage race. Two third places on mountain stages of the Baby Giro and eighth in the under 23 Liege Bastogne Liege also showed his class.
This year, he had problems with a knee strain during the spring but has recovered well. With his form on the up, he's looking to do a good ride in the Tour de l'Avenir. "Provided the form stays good, I will hopefully go for a stage win or a top five place overall," he said. "I haven't really thought too much about what I hope to achieve there, but it would certainly be nice to do a good ride."
Stay tuned for a full interview with Philip Deignan later this week.