“The first time of the season I go to the finish for the win and there’s another Irish guy there...”
There was a blend of irony and disappointment in Philip Deignan's voice, at the end of Tour of Beijing's queen stage on Friday in Yong Ning. His second place in a breakaway sprint behind his countryman Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale) summarizes a lot of his career at this stage: a panache attack without the final victory, evidence of his climber's gifts, unfinished business and the remaining hope of better days to come.
In fact, Deignan was the first rider to attack on the last category 1 climb of the stage, before being caught by Chris Froome (Sky) and Roche.
“Nico is faster than me,” he admitted. “He had a little bit more power too.” Three seconds after they crossed the line they shook hands with one another. They know each other very well, both from wearing the same green jersey for the national team and from their time at the same French amateur club, VC La Pomme Marseille.
Roche and Deignan’s one-two might well evoke comparison with the former's father, Stephen, and Sean Kelly in the 1980s: urban style versus countryside spirit. The difference, however, is that the younger Roche is more familiar than his countryman Deignan to the wider Irish public.
Moving on to UnitedHealthcare
Before the stage, the discreet and humble Deignan was relishing “a consistent season” at the start in Men Tou Gou, ahead of his best ride of the year.
Earlier in 2011 he was 14th on two occasions at the Giro d'Italia, stage 15 to Gardeccia/Val Di Fassa and stage 18 to San Pellegrino Terme. Above all, however, the Irishman was a domestique for RadioShack's leaders.
“I got some results and did a lot of work for the team,” he said. “This year has been more consistent. I think to go a strong season with no sickness, no injury is important for me. It should help me for next year, I should progress and be stronger.”
Deignan is conscious he lost a bit of time in a vicious circle triggered by health problems and an understandable lack of confidence. For that reason 2011, with his Tour of Beijing performance as a culmination, is perhaps an important turning point in his career.
In 2012, he will race for UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, which attained Pro Continental status this year and hopes to improve further.
“I met them at the Tour of Colorado,” Deignan explained. “They had an interest in the future, a good structure with coaching. The team can grow. They seem well organised and there is a good group of riders.”
The Irish climber is one of the main transfers of the US squad alongside his current team-mate Jason McCartney, Marc De Maar (Quick-Step), Jeff Louder (BMC), Ben Day (Kenda) and Jay Thomson (Bissell).
“I will be more like a team leader, more for the stage races, so it will be exciting,” he said. “Me and a couple of other guys will share the responsibilities. Hopefully in the races which suit me, I can go for GC results.”
Deignan already did it when he was an amateur by winning the 2005 edition of the Ronde de l'Isard, a reliable indicator of pedigree. As a professional, he showed his quality with a very strong showing at the Vuelta a Espana in 2009: he captured stage 18 and finished 9th overall.
“I will be 28 so it's a good age to start,” he said.
With a bit more self-confidence and no injuries, it could all come full circle for the man from Donegal. If that happens, Deignan might well recall his attack and his second place at the Tour of Beijing.