Lizzie Deignan has had to spin a number of different plates since she returned to the peloton earlier this year following her second maternity leave. She is now a mum to two children, whom she has to look after, and a professional athlete who has to train for many hours and travel around the world to race. Her husband Phil has also recently been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and is currently undergoing treatment.
But you’d never know. There is an aura of calmness around her as she sits in the green room of Rouleur Live at the Truman Brewery, Shoreditch, where she is due to go on stage soon with her team-mate Elisa Longo Borghini. Her daughter Orla has come with her and is busy colouring over on the sofas while Deignan chats to Rouleur.
“I don’t balance it,” she laughs, keeping an eye on Orla. “Everything falls off in different directions all the time. I mean, it’s very easy to trust your instincts, and my children are always going to be a priority, so it’s not like I am consciously in a battle – it’s very straightforward for me. But yeah, things have not been balanced at all this season.”
Considering all the obstacles she has had to overcome, she is happy with how her season panned out. Her first race back was La Flèche Wallonne in April, followed by Liège-Bastogne-Liège a few days later. This wasn’t part of her original plan. The Vuelta Femenina was meant to be her first race back. However, despite it being a bit of a shock (she recalls getting the phone call whilst breastfeeding her son), her return to the peloton felt natural and fun – reaffirming her thoughts that she is not ready to retire from the sport.
“I remember somebody telling me once, ‘It’s time to retire when you enjoy training more than racing.’ I’m not at all in that boat. I prefer racing – definitely. Like, that’s what I do it for. I love being amongst the peloton, getting stuck in, and it’s instinctual for me. It just comes straight back,” she adds firmly.
And she proved this throughout the rest of the season by being a vital help to her team-mates and seeing respectable results for herself. Deignan came third overall in her home race, RideLondon Classique, only being beaten by Charlotte Kool and Chloé Dygert. Then displayed an impressive performance during the women’s road World Championships in Glasgow, fighting her way to sixth place. The 34-year-old rider knew she was in good shape ahead of the Worlds but also taken aback by her own determination. “I just remember thinking, ‘Okay, I am still here.’ That was the feeling I had driving home,” she adds.
This has given her a boost in confidence for a race she hopes to target next year – the Paris Olympics. However, ever the realist, Deignan is not pinning all her hopes on this one event. “I’d love to go there, but I think it’s important to give it a place. I am not going to pin my whole season on the Olympics because it’s one race, and a lot can go wrong, a lot can go right, but I’ve got other goals, too.
“I think, for me, being able to really perform in the Tour de France Femmes is something that I want to be able to do. There were a couple of missed opportunities, maybe to get in the breakaways this year, and I’d like to be peaking at the Tour,” says Deignan.
This year was Deignan’s first experience of the Tour de France Femmes, where she was road captain for her Lidl-Trek team, who experienced the blow of having its two main GC contenders – Longo Borghini and Elisa Balsamo – pulled from the race due to illness. Deignan reflects on her first Tour de France Femmes experience, and adds: “I was pleased with my form. I wasn’t happy with the way I rode tactically. I am not sure I always made the right decisions. I was the road captain and was trying to also manage different kinds of expectations from different people.”
It was a valuable lesson for the Yorkshire rider, and she is keen to put what she learnt into practice in next year’s event, especially when it comes to the heightened stress that comes with such a prestigious race. Deignan does not normally suffer from nerves on the start line and often finds herself thinking, ‘It’s just a bike race.’ But she notes that it was different at the Tour – she can’t quite put her finger on why, but she found it quite draining and will be heading to Rotterdam for the race’s Grand Départ in 2024 with “certain walls and barriers up”.
Before the Tour de France Femmes, however, Deignan has plenty to do, and in her off-season, she is still busy, juggling her family life, her husband’s treatment, and her own training. Her family are vital in providing a helping hand, especially now Deignan and her family have moved back to Yorkshire after 15 years of being an expat. And while most pros would rather never leave the dry, warm conditions of the Mediterranean, Deignan is relishing the fact she’s back on her home roads.
“I feel like a junior again. I just love it. I really didn’t think that would be the case either – I thought I would miss the sunshine and the mountains, but give me rain and gritty roads,” she says.
“We’re only a month in, however,” she quickly adds, shrugging her shoulders, always remaining realistic.