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Lizzie Deignan blasts Patrick Lefevere on 'I'm not the welfare' comments toward women's cycling

Trek-Segafredo’s Lizzie Deignan races to victory at the 2020 Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Trek-Segafredo’s Lizzie Deignan races to victory at the 2020 Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain) has spoken out against Patrick Lefevere's controversial remarks concerning women's cycling in an interview with members of the media ahead of the UCI Road World Championships in Flanders, Belgium. 

The Deceuninck-QuickStep boss stated that he is 'not welfare' and that he had 'no experience, time, money or desire to invest' in women's cycling in an interview with Het Laatste Nieuws Sportscast on Tuesday.

Deignan comes into these World Championships as one of the favourites to win her second world title on Saturday. She was asked by a journalist if it was disappointing to hear Lefevere's comments, particularly ahead of an event meant to celebrate the sport.

"I really take everything [Patrick Lefevere] says with a pinch of salt, so no, I’m not disappointed by his comments," said Deignan in a press interview two days ahead of elite women's road race.

"Actually, I’m pleased that he has no interest in women’s cycling because we have no interest in him either."

In an interview with Het Laatste Nieuws Sportscast, Lefevere was asked when he would start a women's team. "When there are enough good riders in Belgium," he responded.

Lefevere made no mention of double Belgian Champion Lotte Kopecky, who along with Deignan, is a favourite to win the world title in Flanders on Saturday. Kopecky leads the team along with Jolien D'hoore at their home World Championships. The pair will be joined by Shari Bossuyt, Kim de Baat, Valerie Demey, and Jessie Vandenbulcke.

Deignan will be competing with a strong seven-rider British team that also includes her Olympic Games teammate Anna Shackley, National Champion Alice Barnes, and up-and-coming talents Anna Henderson, Pfeiffer Georgi, and Joss Lowden.

In an interview with Cyclingnews last week, Deignan said that she is on track to a third season peak ahead of the elite women’s road race and hopes to secure her first world title since she won in Richmond in 2015.

"I’m really good, thank you, and I’m excited to be here," she told the press on Thursday. "It’s been a long time coming, this World Championships, actually. It’s nice to be at a World Championships that has been set in stone and we’ve been able to prepare for it and get excited about it.

"A team is important and we have riders who can be there deep into the final, for the first time in a few years, we have the ability to use our team to our advantage. At Imola, the circuit was too hard and I was on my own. This year is more dynamic and other riders have stepped up; Anna Henderson, I expect to be there at the end of the race. We have opportunity there, too."

The elite women will race 157 kilometres between Antwerp and Leuven, with the course including 20 short climbs and a total elevation gain of 1,047 metres. The race starts at the Grote Markt in Antwerp and travels south for 55km to two distinct finishing circuits; the Leuven circuit includes four climbs, and the Flandrien circuit consists of six climbs. The field will first complete one-and-a-half loops of a local circuit in Leuven, followed by one loop of the Flandrien circuit, and then two-and-a-half final loops of the local circuit in Leuven.

"I saw the circuits today," said Deignan. "I knew them anyway but I saw them on closed roads today and I really like the circuit. I think it’s going to be a really dynamic and interesting race. I couldn’t tell you a point where it’s going to explode or what might happen. It’s just going to be a really open race."

Many teams will be watching the powerful eight-rider Dutch squad that includes the last four consecutive road race world champions with Chantal van den Broek Blaak (2017), Annemiek van Vleuten (2019) and Anna van der Breggen (2018 and 2020), and three-time winner Marianne Vos (2006, 2012 and 2013). 

As for her other rivals, Deignan picked Italy's Marta Bastianelli and Elisa Longo Borghini, along with Danish pair of Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Emma Norsgaard. She also pointed out Belgium's home favourite Lotte Kopecky.

"Kopecky is a huge favourite," Deignan said. "She’s really impressed me this year with a bit of a breakout year. She can climb with the best and sprint with the best. This course suits her really well, she’s on home roads, and she's a home favourite. That can be a bonus, or not, depends on how she handles that pressure."

As for her own chances, Deignan said that she's going into the race with an all-in attitude as she attempts to win a second world title.

"I’ve come into this open minded and I have to have that tactic; being willing to lose it in order to win it. My tactic remains the same. I want to win and a top 10 doesn’t interest me ... I just have to go in with an all-in attitude."

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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.