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Lizzie Deignan aiming for Olympics-Worlds double in 2021

Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain)
Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain) has had back-to-back victories at the GP de Plouay and La Course in 2020 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Lizzie Deignan has postponed her retirement with ambitions to complete the Tokyo Olympic Games and Flanders World Championships double victories in 2021. The British rider and former world champion says she has no immediate plans to stop racing for the foreseeable future.

Deignan returned to racing following the birth of her first child, Orla, with her focus on the Yorkshire World Championships last year and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, which were postponed this summer due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. In an interview with members of the British press ahead of the World Championships in Imola, Deignan said her goals have been refocussed on next year’s Worlds in Flanders and the postponed Olympic Games in Tokyo. 

If Deignan were to win both titles, it would be a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Marianne Vos won the world title in Valkenburg and the Olympic gold medal in London in 2012. Before that, her compatriot Nicole Cooke won the world title in Varese and the Olympic Games title in Beijing in 2008.

"I’d never sort of considered the combination going together and being unique, but you're right. Nicole did a phenomenal thing, and it's not been done since [Marianne Vos won the World and the Olympic titles in 2012]. There are two opportunities I suppose - there's this year's Worlds and Flanders next year, which I've definitely thought about much more. Tokyo and Flanders are a goal," Deignan said.

Deignan has had a strong season in 2020 with back-to-back victories at the GP de Plouay and La Course by Le Tour de France, and she is currently leading the Women’s WorldTour. At the hilly Imola World Championships on Saturday, she finished sixth from a select chase-group sprint after nearly making it over the steep climbs with the best ascenders in the race, as Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) soloed to victory. 

Deignan said she had less pressure in Imola this year than in Yorkshire last year, where she finished 31st after an attempt to chase winner Annemiek van Vleuten.

"I think I'm physically in a different place. I think I rode like somebody under pressure last year," Deignan said about the Road World Championships. "Tactically I wasn't very smart. I spent far too much time on the front trying to chase down Annemiek van Vleuten, I should have spent more time in the wheels. This year, I don't feel like the race rests on my shoulder."

2020 Flanders and Paris-Roubaix

A strong sixth-place finish in Imola bodes well for Deignan’s revised calendar targets this fall. Next up is Flèche Wallonne, on Wednesday, followed by the Ardennes Classics. Then she will race Tour of Flanders on October 18, a race she won in 2016, and the inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix on October 25. 

ASO announced the route details for the women’s Paris-Roubaix - a 116km race that will start in Denain and include 17 sectors of pavé before finishing at the Roubaix Velodrome.

"Yeah, absolutely, I really want to be a part of that [Paris-Roubaix], I think it's a huge opportunity and I'm delighted that in a pandemic year we'd had something like that. It's really symbolic of where we're heading in women's cycling," Deignan said. 

"It's easy to use the pandemic as an excuse but that hasn't happened. The course itself is going to be brutal. I'm yet to see it in real life, I've only heard crazy things about it. I'm excited to be part of it."

Asked if the cobbles will suit her, Deignan said, "I don't know. I hope so. I'm quite a lightweight rider so that may not be to my advantage."

Retiring

Deignan had considered retiring from the sport at the end of the 2020 season, upon the expiration of a two-year contract signed with Trek-Segafredo for 2019 and 2020. At that time, she committed to two seasons of racing with Yorkshire Worlds and Tokyo Olympics the main goals. However, she has no plans to retire now, especially now that she is back at the top of her game, and she intends to keep racing.

"It's funny, I should probably stop talking about retirement because no one will believe me when I actually do," Deignan said. "I always had in mind that Tokyo [2020] would be that retirement race but life changes and moves on. I have a family now and the break from cycling completely renewed my love for the sport. I don't see Tokyo [postponed to 2021] as the finish line any more, I'm very open-minded about that."

Deignan said that she is also motivated to continue after experiencing a surge in the growth of women’s cycling in her postpartum return to the sport. She also feels grateful for the opportunity to be a mother and continue her career as a world-class athlete and financially support her family.

"The growth in women's cycling, the opportunities I now have, I'm in a fantastic position where I'm able to support my family from being a bike rider and that wasn't where I saw myself being 10 years ago, it was just impossible to think about. I completely understand and appreciate how lucky I am to have the profession I have," Deignan said.

"[Motherhood] makes me much more relaxed than I used to be. The break from cycling allowed me to rediscover my love for the sport and how lucky I am to do this job. If I'd been in any other job as a pregnant woman my maternity leave would have been very different and my time that I have now with my daughter would be very different. Maybe it's just growing up, I just realise how lucky I am.

"I always find it funny when people say 'I'm doing it for my daughter or son'. Orla has no idea what I'm doing and couldn’t care less. The main thing I'd like to pass on, as a woman, is that there's no boundaries, no limitations. I hope she just grows up in a house where her gender doesn't dictate what she does in her work."

Deignan’s dream of winning a world title on home soil didn’t come to fruition in Yorkshire last year, but she will have an opportunity to try for a Commonwealth Games title in Birmingham in 2022 and then the first unified multi-discipline UCI World Championships in Glasgow in 2023.

"Definitely, I think as an athlete you have to make tough decisions on when to retire. There's also Glasgow on the horizon as a home Worlds again, so there's lots of events that can keep you going, but there's a lot of important aspects on that decision."