It was not the start to the year Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) was hoping for or expecting. Stymied by two patches of illness this spring, the British rider didn’t get to use her turn of speed to edge ahead of her rivals and make it over the line first. Now, with her health returned, a good run of training plus a confidence-boosting overall victory at Tour de Suisse, it looks like the tide is on the turn for the La Course defending champion, and the timing couldn't be better.
The 32-year-old entered 2021 with every reason to think it would be a strong year ahead, finishing 2020 on top of the Women’s WorldTour leaderboard and feeling like she’d had the perfect winter to set her on the right foot.
“I felt really excited about this season, I got used to what it's like to race during a pandemic and I knew what to expect from everything this year and winter went really, really well,” Deignan told Cyclingnews. “But with hindsight, it probably went a bit too well.”
Faced with travel difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Deignan didn’t return to visit family in the UK or Ireland last winter, freeing her to concentrate on her training, which, particularly as it was an Olympic Games year, seemed like a good idea at the time.
“With hindsight, I didn't take enough rest in the winter. I trained really, really well....I was flying at the start of the season, but unfortunately I got sick on Opening Weekend and I just never quite got over it and was able to catch up again, so it was really disappointing."
Again Deignan became sick around Flanders, she had to sit out another batch of racing, which included Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a race she had won in 2020.
"It was really frustrating, but sometimes you have to look at the positives and our season this year is going to be long again,” said Deignan. “We're going to be racing into the end of October so, potentially the fact that I haven't raced that much might pay off towards the end of the season."
Hopefully, though, all the work she has put into rebuilding will start to pay off sooner.
Deignan returned to racing after the second bout of illness at the six-stage Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour, helping support her teammate Lucinda Brand to the overall victory, and then moving onto the Tour de Suisse. She got away with Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM) on the first stage but was disappointed not to convert it to a win in the sprint, with tactics rather than speed catching her – a scenario she was on the other side of when she beat Marianne Vos at La Course last year.
However, she managed to turn that disappointment to elation on stage 2 by taking enough bonus seconds to win the overall by one second. Deignan said a win was just what she needed for her morale.
“I think it's always easier to have trust in what you are doing when the results are there, because they're not always there in cycling and sometimes you feel like you just knocking on door and nothing's happening. So, yes, it was a relief, to get a result."
After the Tour de Suisse, June began with a lull in the calendar and with big targets ahead for La Course, the Giro Donne and the Olympics. Deignan, and so many others too, were focussed on that all-important final stretch of training. The social media of riders was filled with pictures of mountains, as it seemed like everyone was heading to altitude to hone their form.
Deignan was an exception, instead staying at home, partly because the mountains are not the most convenient options when you have a family to consider but also because with a focus on Tokyo, where the conditions are likely to be hot and humid, Monaco seemed a better fit.
It’s an approach that has delivered form that Deignan is happy with as she gets ready to defend her title at La Course on June 26. It's a route that appears to suit her, with the six trips up the Mûr-de-Bretagne punctuating the 107.4-kilometre route, starting in Brest and finishing in Landerneau atop the Côte de la Fosse aux Loups.
“I feel like training is going really well,” said Deignan. “The racing has gone pretty well too. Obviously, we're still a month out from the Olympics, so I'm hoping that there is still a little bit more to come but, yeah, I'm excited about my form heading into La Course."
Giro d’Italia Donne
Once La Course is over Deignan head to the Giro d’Italia Donne, for 10 days of racing across northern Italy from July 2-11. It’s an event where Deignan said she will be playing a support role, but that it would also act as perfect preparation for her before the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“We are going there to support Elisa Longo Borghini,” said Deignan. “It's her home race, she's our best GC hope and I want to do the best job that I can for that. That's completely my focus. So it's great for me, having a hard race with no pressure."
Longo Borghini has been in the overall top 10 seven times in her nine starts at the race – previously known as the Giro Rosa – and she took third overall in 2020 and second in 2017. Deignan, too, has visited the stage podium, taking third on stage 5 last year and then two days later shifting up to second place on stage 7.
When asked if going for stage victories might be an option this year, Deignan clearly emphasised that it wasn’t a priority but didn’t rule it out as a possibility.
“I wouldn't say no, but I think it's definitely secondary to the overall. If I'm doing my job properly, then that diminishes my chance of a stage, but anything can happen. So, yeah, definitely, if I'm there with a chance, then I'll go for it."
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