Lizzie Deignan has twice finished second in the last four days, but she doesn’t mind. In fact, the Briton is delighted. When a teammate is on the top step, second place is cause for celebration.
Boels-Dolmans may have had a slower start to the season than last year but Deignan and her teammates are clearly back to their best. Anna van der Breggen soloed to her first victory of the year at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, where Deignan out-sprinted a small chase group to secure second. At Flèche Wallone on Wednesday, Van der Breggen and Deignan tag-teamed Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3) on the run-in to the Mur de Huy to snag another one-two punch.
“It’s always frustrating when people question your performance when you know you’re doing everything you can, but life gets in the way,” said Deignan.
“I was poorly at the start of the year, and there was nothing I could do about it. It’s happened to more than a few of us this year. We’re always professional. We’re always committed. We knew the results would follow after a period where we could all train properly.”
The results followed at the most opportune time. Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne, along with Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, comprise the inaugural women’s Ardennes Week. While Flèche has been a staple on the women’s calendar for two decades, Liège is new this year and Amstel Gold Race returns after a 14-year hiatus.
The Dutch-registered Boels-Dolmans squad not only has title sponsors whose offices are within 80 kilometres of the all three race finishes, but Boels Rental sponsors both Flèche and Liège.
“This is the biggest week of the season for us,” said Deignan. “The races are important to us, and they’re important to our sponsors. The way I see it, our motivation to win is greater and, if we pull it off, the win is even sweeter. We thrive on pressure. If you don’t, cycling isn’t the sport for you.”
The pressure is somewhat alleviated by a shared leadership role. Both Deignan and Van der Breggen tailored their training to be in top shape for the Ardennes. While Deignan may not have her finest form, she’s plenty fit to serve as a dual leader alongside Van der Breggen.
The pair have only ridden together four times this season – at the last two Ardennes races, Flanders and Trofeo Alfredo Binda – but their inexperience as teammates hasn’t proven an obstacle. The two have managed to play off each other perfectly en route to Van der Breggen’s victories this week.
“We are a great combination because we are similar but also different,” said Deignan. “Anna is a better climber than me, but my finishing kick is better. That means we can be flexible in the final. We have confidence in a number of scenarios – whether that’s a solo attack or a small group finish.
“It takes time to have a real connection with a teammate in a race but our relationship on the bike has developed quickly. We have raced against each other for a long time, so I think I can read her body language pretty well already.”
Deignan’s leadership role afforded her a different perspective than her usual at Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday.
“Normally I do Flèche as a worker,” she said. “I have never done it as a team leader until today. The biggest difference with today’s race was that I had a completely full tank in the final thanks to my team. It was the strongest team performance I have ever been a part of here. I didn’t waste a drop of energy.”
Having bagged the first two of the Ardennes races, Boels-Dolmans now looks to complete what Deignan has dubbed the ‘triple crown’ of the season. The team will line-up as the clear favourites to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, and Deignan is confident they can deliver.
“We’re definitely motivated for a clean sweep,” she said. “I have seen the course. Granted, I rode it the day after Flanders, so I was tired, but the route is incredibly hard. It has a good shot at being the toughest one-day race on the women’s calendar.”