Lizzie Deignan has been around the professional peloton long enough to know that achieving sporting greatness doesn't happen by winning one big race or having one good season. Greatness is also measured against an athlete's and team's success and longevity within a sport.
Deignan has built a 15-year career in cycling, and although it has had its ups and downs, last year marked her return to the top as the number one ranked rider who is racing for the number one ranked team, Trek-Segafredo, on the Women's WorldTour.
In an interview from her team camp in Italy on Monday, Deignan highlighted her ambitions for the 2021 season, including winning the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the UCI Road World Championships in Flanders, Belgium, while also aiming to help cement Trek-Segafredo's greatness in women's cycling.
"There was a quote yesterday in one of the team meetings that said 'cementing greatness, and performing, is staying at the top.'" Deignan said. "It's great that we've reached the top and that we are ranked the number one team so quickly, but actually, the greatest and hardest thing to do is to maintain that level of performance. I think we are all in the same boat and that we are completely determined to do that."
Deignan's victories last year at GP de Plouay, La Course by le Tour de France and Liège-Bastogne-Liège helped secure her title of the 2020 Women's WorldTour, a position she's been in before, having won the 2014 and 2015 World-Cup titles. Her performances also helped lift Trek-Segafredo to the top of the women's team ranking in just their second season.
She attributes much of her success last year to teamwork, particularly the work of Elisa Longo Borghini, who finished second in the Women's WorldTour ranking. Trek-Segafredo won the Giro Rosa's opening team time trial, and Longo Borghini won a stage and finished third overall. On many occasions, Deignan and Longo Borghini provided the team with a two-pronged attack at the races, and they had the support of powerful teamwork to back up that strategy.
"Elisa and I complement each other on the bike, our racing styles, and I hope to be able to repay her in 2021 for some of the amazing work she did for me last year. I think most of my victories were directly off the back of some of the work that Elisa did in races," Deignan said.
Chloe Hosking and Amalie Dideriksen, a former teammate of Deignan's at Boels Dolmans, are the only two new signings, while Trek-Segafredo renewed with their core of 12 riders for 2021. Deignan said the addition of Hosking and Dideriksen give the team a much-needed option for sprinter-friendly events.
"From a team tactic perspective, we are all delighted that we have signed some sprinters," she said. "It's been difficult at some races to go into it without having a sprinter because it means we've been aggressive at every single race, and looking for a breakaway, and sometimes that can be tiring. It would be nice to go into a race and focus completely on the sprint and work on our lead-out. We have a good lead-out, and we need to have the sprinters to finish it off, so they are two good signings."
All-in for Flanders World Championships
Deignan will forgo the Ardennes Classics week and instead focus on the cobbled Classics such as the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the spring. She will then turn her attention to the postponed Olympic Games and then the UCI Road World Championships in Belgium, where she hopes to win a second world title in the elite women's road race. Deignan won the elite women's road race world title at the 2015 Worlds in Richmond.
"Ever since lockdown last spring, I decided to focus on something tangible, and I was thinking long-term and World Championships in Flanders was my motivating factor to keep me working hard," said Deignan, who won the Tour of Flanders in 2016.
"At that time, I didn't know if there was going to be a season in 2020, so I was thinking about Flanders a lot in training. I'm very, very excited about [world championships] Flanders, and it's a big goal of mine."
New to the Women's WordTour this season is the first-ever women's Paris-Roubaix. Deignan admitted that she hadn't previewed the event's unique cobbles, but she would like to be the inaugural winner of an event steeped in so much of cycling's Classics history.
"Being the first winner, in general, would be nice," Deignan said. "I've said that it is definitely a goal of mine, and I've said that because we have a World Championships in Flanders, so I'm shifting my focus to the cobbles Classics; Flanders and Roubaix, rather than the Ardennes week.
"You could kind of combine Flanders and the Ardennes [before], but now that there is Roubaix, I think you have to be a bit more specialist to be competitive in Roubaix. I will try to be in good form at the beginning of that period.
"Paris-Roubaix is a lofty ambition because I've never even ridden the cobbles there, so it seems a bit bold to say that I want to win it when I've never even seen these crazy cobbles. I would definitely love to be in my best shape there."
Opportunity and a Women's Tour de France
While standing on the podium as the winner of ASO's one-day women's race La Course last year, Deignan stated that she wanted a women's Tour de France. At that time, UCI President David Lappartient said that ASO will launch a stage race for women in 2022 (opens in new tab), but he could not confirm that it would be officially named as the women's Tour de France (opens in new tab). It has since been reported that the event could include eight days and run the week following the men's three-week Tour de France.
"I think it would replicate the men's Grand Tour," Deignan said when asked her perspective on what a perfect women's Tour de France would entail.
"It would be full of different stages. I think it would be good if it included big mountain passes, iconic mountains where we don't usually get to race on those passes.
"I don't know, and I suppose I never really thought about it so specifically, but I just assumed it would follow suit and be similar to the men's race. I wouldn't care what it was called as long as we won it. From a rider's perspective, it's just about having the opportunity to race for three weeks in what could potentially be our most challenging race yet."
Deignan praised the ASO for adding a women's Paris-Roubaix to its list of one-day races alongside Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and La Course, and said there was a new level of excitement among the women's peloton when talking about the new events and opportunities happening in the sport, such as the inclusion of a minimum salary and the potential for a women's Tour de France. Things that didn't exist when Deignan started her career in women's cycling.
"It was a discussion around the dinner table among the older riders, whereby we said, "damn, it sucks being old and seeing all this progression," but at the same time, it's exciting for the next generation. Of course, there is some jealousy there, where people like Elynor Backstedt and some of the younger riders on the team have so many amazing opportunities," said Deignan, whose contract expires at the end of 2022.
"The generation of riders that I'm in can be proud of what we have done to help contribute to that; it's great that women's cycling is in a good place. It will be hard to step away from that, and in the future, we will see women's Grand Tours on TV, hopefully. I will certainly be very happy to see it."
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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.