13 April 2020

Lizzie Deignan on why Olympic delay is no big deal and what really counts right now is 'are my family going to be safe'

For someone whose focus, until a few weeks ago, was squarely on competing in the Olympic road race and then riding off into retirement, you could forgive Lizzie Deignan for feeling somewhat deflated.

But the former world champion insists the postponement of the Tokyo Games is 'not a problem' and says in the current climate 'perspective' is key.

And a large part of that is how the 31-year-old has juggled her return to cycling last year after giving birth to her first child Orla in September 2018.

"I really enjoy my job at the moment so luckily I don’t feel like ‘oh gosh I’ve got to keep this going for another year’. I feel motivated about that, it’s not a problem," she told NewsChain in an exclusive interview.

“I think if it was just about the Olympics and I wasn’t enjoying it anymore then it would be a struggle. But actually having returned to the sport I’ve enjoyed it more than I ever did before," she said.

“Really we’re the lucky ones, I think. It’s all about perspective so I’m really not getting too stressed. What I’m anxious about when I can’t sleep at night is 'are my grandparents going to be safe'? or 'what’s going to happen to the world'? The Olympics - or lack of - isn’t keeping me awake at night."

Instead of bemoaning the devastating effect the coronavirus has had on the cycling season, Deignan is looking at the positives of the situation.

Deignan with her husband Phillip and their daughter Orla (PA Images)

The four-time national champion, who is married to ex-pro cyclist Phillip Deignan, sees it as an opportunity to enjoy her family while also serving as a role model to others.

“I need to look at the positives of the situation which are I get to spend more time with my daughter and I don’t have to go away for races," she added.

“I have a responsibility to my team to stay as fit as I can in case races do come back. But also a responsibility as professional athletes we are role models in the community so it’s important to advocate that people stay fit and health because it’s not that easy to do at the moment."

Deignan and her family spend most of their time living in Monaco, but returned to Otley in West Yorkshire as the outbreak began to get more serious.

“We’ve come from France - next door to Italy where it was all kicking off - and I’d speak to people at home and they’d be saying ‘oh it’s not that big of a deal’, and I was like ‘it is'," she said.

"So we were kind of two weeks ahead of the mindset of, say my mum, who has been in the UK the whole time."

As a result of the virus, the UCI, cycling's governing body, recently extended the suspension of the season to June 1.

The spring classics have already been postponed to later in the year and the summer races such as the Giro Rosa and La Course now also look in jeopardy as the cycling calendar threatens to be swept away.

And while the 2012 Olympic silver medallist is still training and maintaining her fitness through this uncertain time, she is not optimistic about racing competitively any time soon.

“People are still talking about being able to race this season, but I can’t see that happening. I really hope I’m wrong but it’s not going to be the priority," she said.

“If you’ve got something like the Olympic Games, which is the biggest event globally for sport, who have said it’s not going to be possible to run, then I’m not sure an individual lower-budget bike race will be able to run.

“I actually think as an athlete you’re better erring on the side of letting it go a bit. There’s no point being 100 per cent focused on being as lean or as focused as possible at the moment because it’s not sustainable, particularly not in an environment like this when a lot of people are training indoors.

“We can’t see physios, can’t see nutritionists, can’t see doctors, all these things that are so vital at top level competition and you can’t do that."

It is no secret that Deignan was heading into 2020 with the Olympic road race as her main focus having finished runner-up eight years ago in London to The Netherlands' Marianne Vos.

It is also public knowledge that the Briton planned to retire after the Olympics, something which will now be pushed back 12 months to the summer of 2021.

But Deignan feels since coming back to the sport as a mum she has found a renewed love for the sport.

Having fallen short of glory at the world championships in Harrogate in 2019 with a brave, valiant attack, Deignan was thrilled with the form she was showing at the start of the season prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

“(I was going) really well, which is really frustrating. I did a lifetime best power output in training so I know I’m in really good shape, which is frustrating, but also it gives me the confidence that all the work I’ve done in winter has paid off and that I’ve got my timing right.

"I needed to be in good shape at the moment for some racing in the spring and if I did that once I can hopefully repeat that again next year."

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