21 September 2020

Lizzie Deignan on La Course victory, Tour of Flanders, the Olympics and racing in a post-coronavirus Europe

Britain’s Lizzie Deignan says she feels vindicated for putting family first during the coronavirus lockdown after her victory at La Course.

The 31 year-old beat rival Marianne Vos in a thrilling sprint finish at the end of August to claim her biggest one-day win since returning from the sport after giving birth in 2018.

And although for many it was not a surprise to see her cross the line first in Nice, she admits it was not necessarily one she was expecting, given she had crashed just two days earlier at the European Championships.

Speaking exclusively to NewsChain, she said: "I suppose it was (a surprise), especially after the crash I had at the Europeans, I was pretty sore after that so it was a surprise to do that.

"It means that our approach from me and my husband - he coaches me - our approach of putting family first for those few months while we were in lockdown was the right thing to do.

"It shows that although it’s important to put the work in on the bike, you can maintain a balance and still perform at your best. So it’s a confidence boost that we’re doing the right stuff ahead of next year."

Deignan told NewsChain back at the start of the lockdown in April that she felt there was ‘no point being 100 per cent focused’ as there was no racing on the horizon and in her opinion there would be none for the rest of 2020.

But when the UCI announced in early summer that there would be a re-scheduled, condensed calendar of racing this year, the British former world champion saw that as more than enough time to get back into sufficient shape.

"We got a confirmed restart to the season about six weeks before it happened which is plenty of time to start doing proper preparation, intervals and intensity in training," she said.

"So I kept my base going but I’d definitely backed off on the intensity because there’s no point of maintaining that level, you can’t do it.

"So hopefully I’ll peak around the world championships and the races after that."

Deignan became world road race champion in 2015 but does not believe the course this year gives her a good chance of victory (PA Images)

The UCI recently revealed the world championships will go ahead, albeit in Imola, Italy rather than the original location of Switzerland.

But given it is a course suited for the pure climbers, it is not a race Deignan believes she can target a victory in.

As a result, she is now looking at the Giro Rosa and World Championships as high-level preparation for the Classics in October.

She said: "Obviously, you always want to represent your country well and be in shape at the world championships but it’s also about being realistic and a mountainous course isn’t normally going to favour me.

"Actually my goals are post-world championships in the Classics - the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

"Flanders is pretty special. I’ve won it once before but I’d love to do it again. And with the world championships next year being in Flanders I think it’s always a nice opportunity to get some confidence with a win in the Flanders region.

"If I won Flanders, I think I’d be pretty delighted with how the season has gone."

Deignan started the year with the Olympic road race in Tokyo as her main goal for the 2020 season.

But those hopes were dashed when the Games were postponed until next year.

Deignan, formerly known as Armitstead, finished second behind Marianne Vos in the Olympic road race at London 2012 (DPA/PA Images)

However, despite the disappointment of the Olympics being pushed back 12 months, Deignan gives no credence to the theory that her form now could have seen her claim gold in Tokyo had Covid-19 not swept the globe.

"I’m not frustrated by it at all, I’m just really happy that we’ve got what we have from the season," she said.

"The Olympics is a big goal but I’ve always been quite realistic in not just pinning my whole season around an Olympics. I think that’s quite a lot of pressure on one day and one race.

"Although it’s my main goal, I always love racing my bike and love winning so if anything it just means that training went well and I know what I need to do this time next year."

Deignan has travelled from France - where she won both the GP de Plouay and La Course - to Italy for the Giro Rosa, which starts today.

And while the Otley-born rider recognises that the very real threat of having to quarantine in a particular country isn’t the ideal environment to be racing in, she remains positive about how the sport has coped with the pandemic.

"There’s a lot of extra logistics that you have to consider in terms of getting your tests on the right days and hoping your results come in time to start the race," she added.

"There’s lots of unknowns. Until I’m on the start line I’m not 100 per cent sure the race is going to happen, so it’s still odd.

"You’re still checking the news for where you may or may not need to quarantine so it’s funny because as we go around Europe we’re always on tenterhooks knowing whether we’ll be quarantined somewhere. It’s not straightforward. There’s a lot more to it now with this racing. So, it’s a bit odd but so far cycling seems to be managing it quite well.

"I never expected a season to happen, let alone a Tour de France. I really thought when everyone said ‘the Tour de France is going to happen in September’ that they were mad. I never expected it to come off. So it’s still a bit weird that I won the first stage in Nice. It’s all a bit weird."

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