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Deignan 'legless' but hails GB World Championships performance as best in years

LEUVEN BELGIUM SEPTEMBER 25 Elisabeth DeignanArmitstead of Great Britain competes during the 94th UCI Road World Championships 2021 Women Elite Road Race a 1577km race from Antwerp to Leuven flanders2021 on September 25 2021 in Leuven Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain) during the women's elite road race at the 2021 Road World Championships (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Great Britain may not have been able to manage a medal, or even a top-10, in Saturday’s elite women’s road race in Flanders at the Road World Championships however 2015 winner Lizzie Deignan hailed the strong team showing as one of the nation’s best performances in years, with particular praise for 22-year-old Anna Henderson

It was Henderson who played the more prominent role, looking for moves during the open and attacking phase of the race around the Flandrien loop and back towards the Leuven circuit. Deignan, meanwhile, played more of a waiting game, saving one big bullet for the final throws of the race. 

They were left empty-handed, with none of Henderson’s moves sticking and Deignan ultimately lacking the legs at the climax.

“Weird,” was Deignan’s initial one-word summary of her day. “I went through all kinds of different sensations. I felt strong, I felt fit, but I was really lacking in speed in the end. I couldn’t follow when I needed to. I was legless at the end.

“I felt good in the climbing circuits, it was literally the speed of the Leuven circuit. We’re at the end of the season and it’s kind of the first thing that goes. You can keep the shape in terms of your fitness but not that top-end speed.”

Deignan finished 14th, in the middle of the 25-rider group that contested the finish, while Henderson placed 25th, 49 seconds further back. Despite not having a result to show for it, Deignan was impressed by the team’s collective display, Britain having taken the reins on the approach to the Flandrien loop before the leaders took on the flesh of the race.

“A huge shout out to my teammates. I saved so much energy thanks to them. I think that was the best GB performance we’ve done in a few years, so that’s positive,” Deignan said. 

“Me and Anna went in as joint leaders. Tactically, I didn’t feel I’d get the space anyway on the local laps, so it was about her taking opportunities when they came and me waiting for the sprint. I really expected more fireworks on the climbs around Overijse, but it didn’t happen.

“At the end, my plan was to try and surf the wheels. You don’t know, until you’re actually doing a sprint at the World Championships, how you’re going to fare because everyone is legless. I wanted to try and stick to Vos’ wheel but obviously that was a highly-contested wheel. Just lost it on that last corner never came back.”


LEUVEN BELGIUM SEPTEMBER 25 LR Anna Henderson of Great Britain and Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy compete during the 94th UCI Road World Championships 2021 Women Elite Road Race a 1577km race from Antwerp to Leuven flanders2021 on September 25 2021 in Leuven Belgium Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Anna Henderson (Great Britain) on the attack during the Road World Championships 2021 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Deignan said she was “really impressed” with Henderson, pointing out what a strong season she has had in her first year at Jumbo-Visma. The former skier has enjoyed something of a breakthrough, with a string of prominent placings before grabbing her first full professional victories at the Tour de Belle Isle en Terre-Kreiz Breizh, where she won both stages and the overall.

In Flanders she was handed a co-leadership opportunity alongside a former world champion and she grabbed it with both hands, throwing herself into the thick of the action.

“At the start I was like ‘ooh, I don’t know how my legs are going to feel’ but once we hit the Flandrien circuit my legs really woke up,” Henderson said. “On the local laps I tried to follow everything and make sure Lizzie could save energy. It was a case of making sure we had all bases covered. We did everything right today, I think, but you can’t win them all.

“There was a small opportunity for me to go for [leadership] and I put myself in a position to do that. I’m just lacking that experience. In the future, with a bit more experience under the guidance of Lizzie and the rest of British Cycling, I can get there.”

Flanders was in fact her fourth appearance in an elite Worlds road race, having made her debut as an 18-year-old back in Austria in 2018. On Saturday’s evidence, there will be plenty more to come.

“I blinked and it was finished. It so fast, really attritional,” Henderson said. “Belgium just makes it special, the crowds were so big. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Worlds.”

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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.