Words by Maria David
Things have been going well for Lizzie Deignan lately. After a frustrating start to her 2017 season in which she had to overcome various bugs, Lizzie enjoyed success at the Spring Classics races – third place on the gravel roads of Strade Bianche in Tuscany, a trio of second places in the Netherlands and Belgium at Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallone, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
This was followed by an emotional victory at the Asda Tour de Yorkshire, in which she finished well clear of the field in Harrogate near her home town of Otley.
We caught up with Lizzie at the launch of her autobiography, “Steadfast", in which she reflected on her season. Speaking to Total Women’s Cycling, Lizzie said, “Things have been going well, and I was very happy with the three second places in a row that I got at Amstel, Fleche and Liege Bastogne Liege as I hadn’t been expecting to be that good, after all the colds I’d had!"
Given that Lizzie has had wins at Women’s World Tour events in the past, some questioned why she would be satisfied with second place. In fact, Lizzie came second to her Boels-Dolmans teammate Anna van der Breggen after a plan in which both riders would be the team leaders.
Lizzie explained, “We had an open tactic, with the two of us flexing in the final part, but it just happened that every time she (Anna) would attack no one could follow her, so I was blocked effectively, but that’s cycling and I was happy that Anna won.
“The team morale was really high after Anna won Amstel Gold because it was a really important race for our team. It was a Dutch race, and we had a Dutch winner, from a Dutch team. So this was great for us as well as our sponsors."
As for Lizzie’s victory in the Tour de Yorkshire, in which she used her local knowledge and her form from the hills of Liege-Bastogne-Liege to her advantage, this was a great moment for her.
Lizzie recalls, “With 15km to go my sports director was telling me to save myself for the sprint but I went on the attack because I didn’t want to leave it to a bunch sprint at the end, and I knew the roads better than my sports director. I didn’t dare believe I’d actually won the race until about 1km to go though because I felt like I was getting slower and slower!
“The finish was so special and surreal, and it meant so much to me to receive such great support. This is up there with the biggest wins of my career, definitely."
On the subject of Yorkshire, Lizzie couldn’t fail to notice how much cycling has grown in her native region. Lizzie commented, “There are a lot more women out on the roads in Yorkshire. It’s really popular and there’s definitely an appetite for it. I think with things like the Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour de France there are going to be women who will be inspired to give it a go and now there are clubs to join that can help you learn that sort of thing."
In fact, Lizzie can be credited with getting her sister Kate into cycling, and she now even runs a women’s cycling club. Lizzie said, “I bought my sister a bike two years ago when she was at home on maternity leave with her second baby. She was struggling because she just felt that she didn’t want to go on another coffee morning, and she wanted to do something more. When my sister got her bike she put out an appeal on Facebook to meet other women to ride with. A few women replied and they met at a local pub. That was how the Queensbury Queens Cycling Club was born, and now they have 70 members."
Turning to more immediate matters, Lizzie’s will be focused on the Women’s Tour, which takes place this week. As the defending champion, the pressure will be on, as a number of hopefuls will be snapping at her wheels – starting with teammate and Rio 2016 Olympic road race champion, Anna van der Breggen, London 2012 Olympic Champion Marianne Vos, plus a previous Women’s Tour winner, Lisa Brennauer.
If Lizzie does win the event she won’t fail to reward herself with a white Magnum, a regular ritual whenever she wins a race.
Lizzie jokes, “You are never far from a white Magnum! You can always get one in a petrol station no matter which country you’re in, on the motorway when coming back from a race."
Lizzie’s other objectives are the World Road Race Championships, which take place in Bergen, Norway. Keen to reclaim the rainbow stripes which she won in 2015, she said, “For this year I’d love to be world champion again. That’s the main dream, so I will have a good go at taking the title if the course suits me."
As for the 2019 World Championships, scheduled to take place in Lizzie’s beloved Yorkshire, she has deferred retirement in a hope of being selected to contest the race. Lizzie explained, “I had always planned to retire in 2018, but as it’s only a year longer I think I’d be regretting it if I didn’t start."
However, targeting the Tokyo Olympics may be a little bit of stretch for Lizzie and although she says never say never, at the current time she has no plans to compete there.