In an interview with Cyclingnews, Deignan said that she returned from maternity leave with a strict two-year window to compete in her sport at the highest level. She is giving herself one final opportunity to secure a second world title in Yorkshire and to win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
"That's been the plan," Deignan told Cyclingnews in a phone interview. "I'm open-minded to the fact that we are a year and a half out, and that will come around quickly. Perhaps I've prematurely set the date. But, yes, that is the plan. Of course, it's not 100 per cent, and things could change, but for the moment that's the plan."
Deignan announced in March of 2017 that she was expecting her first baby. During her pregnancy, she decided to leave her long-time team Boels Dolmans, and several months later, accept a new contract with the newly launched Trek-Segafredo.
Deignan said that Trek-Segafredo agreed to a two-year term with full knowledge that she would have a primary focus on the 2019 UCI Road World Championships and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. They are also aware that she intends to retire after the Olympics.
"I have a contract through the end of 2020," Deignan said.
"I made the decision [to retire in 2020] during my pregnancy. I wanted to return just for the Yorkshire Worlds and the Tokyo Olympics, and that would be it."
Deignan won the world title in the elite women's road race at the World Championships in Richmond in 2015. She has also represented Great Britain in the Olympic Games on two occasions; London 2012 where she earned the silver medal and Rio 2016 where she was fifth.
Deignan said that she viewed the Tokyo Olympics as her final opportunity to win a gold medal.
"The biggest motivation for returning was to try and become the Olympic champion," Deignan said. "There's another four-year cycle after Tokyo to get to the next Olympic Games, and I think that would be too much."
Support from Trek-Segafredo
Trek-Segafredo welcomed Deignan to the team while she was still six months pregnant and effectively paid her salary while she was on leave. She felt ready to return to racing in April at the Ardennes Classics, two months earlier than expected.
Deignan set gradual performance targets. She took on a domestique role at first, and helped her teammates during the three Ardennes events; Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and through the Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour of California in May.
She went on to win the OVO Energy Women's Tour in Britain before taking a mid-season break. She is now focussed on specific training to improve her high-end form, all geared toward winning the world title in Yorkshire.
Deignan told Cyclingnews that the thought of winning a second world title in front of her family on home roads is what makes this World Championships particularly special this time around.
She also has added pressure to perform given that this year's Worlds and next year's Olympics will be her last. But she said she thrives under pressure.
"What's got me through some of the times that have gotten hard with juggling everything, is that I have this two-year window to give it absolutely everything," Deignan said.
"I find that really motivating, rather than it be an on-going thing. I find it motivating that I've given myself a finish line.
"There's definitely [pressure], but I thrive under pressure," she said. "I prefer to feel under pressure than to think I'm just going to keep on getting these chances. That's not realistic either because your body gets tired and mentally, you get tired. I think an athlete's career is limited. If I can limit my own career and finish it on my own terms than I will be one of the lucky ones."
Olympic Games: The course suits me
Deignan may have built her training objectives around Yorkshire Worlds and Tokyo Olympics, but British Cycling has not given her assurances that she will be selected to lead the team.
She said she has not even officially been selected to compete at the Olympic Games. Nations are still working on earning the maximum quota of riders to compete in the road cycling events.
"Selection hasn't been made yet," Deignan said. "Selection, in terms of how many spots we are going to get for the Olympic Games (qualifying spots), and so we aren't even certain how big the team will be.
"I have on-going conversations with British Cycling. When you bring riders together [national team] who race for different professional teams, it's a challenging thing to coordinate. It's about open lines of communication."
Deignan said that even after British Cycling selects the roster for the women's road race in Tokyo, she isn't guaranteed the role of designated team leader. That decision isn't made until the strategy meeting right before the race. The same will apply to the team selections for the Yorkshire Worlds.
"That's all still to be decided," Deignan said. "It will be spoken about at the team meeting prior to the race. I try to concentrate on putting myself in a position that I will be [leading the team]. All I can concentrate on my results and ensure that I go into that team meeting as an obvious candidate for that role.
"I'm aiming for the stars, I suppose, by coming in and saying that I want to be Olympic champion," she added. "If you want to try and win the race, you have to be the best in your nation.
"We've always had two or three, or a complement of four world-class riders [for the Olympic Games], but never the same in-competition as the Dutch or the Americans. It's a fairly clear selection when it comes around."
Even though she has only been back in competition for four months, Deignan said she feels prepared to once again lead Team GB at the Olympic Games.
"I'm comfortable in my position as a leader on a team. I'm quite often the leader on the team at Trek-Segafredo, and it's a position that I've grown used to, and I accept and enjoy that responsibility. I benefitted from strong leadership when I was a younger, developing rider. I think it's important to have someone like that on a team."
Deignan and her compatriot Hannah Barnes joined Team GB for a training camp in Tokyo in August, where they previewed the elite women's road race course. The race will be 137km and includes two climbs – Doushi Road and Kagosaka Pass – before finishing on laps of the Mt. Fuji International Speedway. The women's field will cover 2,692 metres of elevation gain.
"I really liked [the route]," Deignan said. "I was impressed. It was hard. It's a relentless course. There's nothing like there was in Rio, in terms of a climb. No mountain stands out, but it's a pretty relentless and undulating course, and it suits me, I think.
"The finishing circuit is pretty cool. It's on a racing track. I assumed it would be flat, but it's not at all. It's really undulating. The last three kilometres of the race is hard, which is unusual for an Olympic race. Normally you have 10km back into the city for a finish line. It's not like that, so this is quite fun."
Deignan likened the course to the Ardennes Classics, specifically Liège-Bastogne-Liège, with longer climbs.
"I would say anyone who is performing well in the Ardennes Classics, and Liège particularly, are the riders who will do well. Every nation has its ideas and strategies, but it's too hard for a pure sprinter."
There are no guarantees in cycling
The sport of cycling offers little in terms of a guarantee and can be both triumphant and unforgiving. Deignan is aware that focussing her final career dreams on two objectives is risky. She could win another rainbow jersey and an Olympic gold medal, or she might not win either of them.
Asked if she would feel regretful if she arrived at the end of her two-year window of opportunity without victories in Yorkshire or Tokyo, Deignan said, "No I wouldn't feel regretful."
"I would feel disappointed, of course, but the aim is to finish my career without any regrets and not to leave any stone unturned. I want to give it absolutely everything, and so I can't have regrets.
"The nature of the sport is that you can't win them all. You lose more than you win. As long as I've given it my best, then I'll be happy.
As for her post-retirement plan, Deignan said she hopes to embrace new opportunities but that she would like to remain in the sport to help nurture the development of women's cycling.
"I think that women's cycling is at a turning point and I would like to give something back. I won't disappear, but I won't be riding my bike every day, that's for sure," she said.
Deignan's husband, Philip, closed out a 14-year career as a professional cyclist in November, shortly after the birth of their daughter. She said that watching Philip venture into retirement from the sport has provided her with some valuable lessons.
"It's been good for me to see the process that Philip has gone through in his retirement because it makes me appreciate what I'm doing even more," Deignan said. "I want to enjoy every second because it's over in a flash.
"In his mind, it wasn't long ago that he was trying to turn into a professional. Then suddenly you're at the point where your career is finished. That's a big change.
"I'm lucky that he's always been a very grounded and down to earth person and so it's not like he misses the limelight or any of that. He misses the discipline, process and goal-setting.
"I know what's ahead of me. I know that it's not easy. It's hard to adjust to a different lifestyle, but he's doing it first, and so hopefully I'll learn from him."
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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 bike racing from the 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 cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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