Philip Deignan is confident that the health problems that plagued his 2010 season are now firmly behind him as he opens a fresh chapter of his career at RadioShack. The Irishman is currently in Calpe, Spain, at his new team’s first training camp of the 2011 campaign.
“They termed it as reoccurring viral infections and said that my immune system wasn’t really working,” Deignan told Cyclingnews ahead of his first group training ride with RadioShack. “My white blood cell count was really low, and I was just getting sick all the time, but thankfully I’m feeling a lot, lot better now.”
Deignan endured a frustrating 2010 as a series of illnesses prevented him from gaining any momentum. The final act in his season came when he was forced to abandon the Vuelta a España on stage 11, but he has used the intervening period to address his nagging health concerns and build towards next season.
“I had three or four weeks off the bike after the Vuelta and I did a lot of blood tests and scans just to monitor the health and to see how my body was recovering,” he explained. “I got some more tests done three weeks ago and they all showed that my immune system had recovered.”
Deignan cut a distinctive figure on his first RadioShack outing in the colours of the now defunct Cervélo TestTeam and he admitted that it came as a major surprise when it was announced in August that the team was to disband at the end of the season.
“The only reason I was starting to get a little suspicious was that we hadn’t signed anybody after the Tour or even during the Tour,” he said. “A lot of the guys hadn’t re-signed. There were only eight or 10 of us who had contracts for next year. I suppose that raised a few eyebrows but I still don’t think anybody expected the team to fold so quickly, just like that and so late in the year. It was a big shock.”
The majority of Cervélo riders who didn’t find refuge at the revamped Garmin-Cervélo outfit were then faced with a late scramble to find a contract for 2011. Deignan’s pedigree meant that he was always likely to be snapped up quickly, but he acknowledged that the timing of the announcement made it more difficult.
“I had a couple of other possibilities but this was by far the best option. This was the one I wanted to go for,” he said and his early impressions of life at RadioShack have been positive.
“It’s early days but like most other ProTour teams it’s very well organised and there’s a good group of guys here,” Deignan said. “I’m looking forward to this week and getting to know everyone a little better and getting to know how things work.”
Deignan has spent the past three months in Ireland and has seen his training curtailed by the extreme weather conditions that have hit northern Europe in recent weeks. Although the RadioShack training camp concludes on Monday, Deignan has opted to stay in Calpe for an extra week and get in some additional warm weather miles with the An Post-Sean Kelly team.
“Last week I broke my own record and did fifteen hours on the turbo trainer,” he joked. “So it’ll be good to get some decent work in on the road here for the next couple of weeks.”
While his programme for the coming season has yet to be established, Deignan hopes to get a chance to show his mettle in a three-week race. The man from Letterkenny was hugely impressive at the 2009 Vuelta a España, winning a stage and finishing ninth overall, and he is determined to recapture that kind of form.
“I want to ride one of the Grand Tours,” Deignan said. “It’s not my decision which one I’ll be riding, but they know what kind of races suit me. I haven’t really targeted a specific one yet but we’ll see this week.”
Deignan’s Vuelta victory in Avila last year marked Ireland’s first Grand Tour stage win in 17 years and remains the stand out performance of the recent renaissance of Irish cycling on the highest stage. Although understandably frustrated that his health did not allow him to repeat that kind of result in 2010, he was greatly encouraged by the displays of his fellow countrymen Nicolas Roche (AG2R) and Dan Martin (Garmin-Transitions).
“Anything they do, I’m happy for them and it’s great to see them doing well,” he said. “I know in my own mind what I can do when I’m in good shape and when I’m healthy.
“If anything, it’s encouraging when you see Dan and Nicolas doing that. It shows that it’s possible now and we’re all up there able to compete. I think it’s an exciting time for Irish cycling at the moment.”