This time last year, Lizzie Deignan was heavily pregnant, preparing herself and her family for their newest addition. Fast forward a year later, and Deignan was placing sixth in the elite women’s road World Championships and looking in phenomenal form while doing so. Rivalling the very best women in the world, the British rider seemed to be in with a chance of taking the title herself as she made some stealthy attacks which had British viewers on the edge of their seats.
One of the most experienced riders in the peloton, this was Deignan’s 14th World Championships – a race of which she has fond memories. In 2015, she actually took the title after a sprint finish from a small group and put herself in the prestigious rainbow jersey. She also has fond memories of Glasgow too, winning her Commonwealth title here in 2014. This World Championships would be a race down memory lane, nine years later, and two children in tow. Despite her life looking somewhat different now, she is never in doubt about her abilities. Deignan said before the race she had “as good a chance as anybody”, and the plan for the British team was to go all in and see what happened with no chosen outright leader.
Getting in the early break with 135km to go, Deignan had put herself in an elite group with Juliette Labous, Ashleigh Moolman, Elise Chabbey, Mischa Bredewold and Sanne Cant. From that moment, Deignan became the British team’s hope. “I kind of had to change tactics quite a lot throughout the race,” she said afterwards. “I was hoping, looking at the races previously, an early breakaway was a smart move, but the conditions never deteriorated today, we were hoping for rain and actually it was dry and warm, and fast. And the break that I was in didn’t stick and I burnt a few matches there, and then it just kind of felt a bit relentless.”
With 110km to go, the group Deignan was in got caught, but as the route twisted and turned through the Scottish countryside towards the centre of Glasgow, Deignan remained well-positioned, ready to expect the favourites to go. Throughout the rest of the race, when the camera panned to the bunch, Deignan remained at the front.
Ahead of the World Championships, the 34-year-old was working mainly for her teammates at Lidl-Trek, as she settled back into the peloton. Coming back from maternity earlier than expected this year, starting with La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Deignan has gone on to race all three of the women’s Grand Tours, going from strength to strength with each one. At the Tour de France Femmes, we saw glimpses of the form that she used to win Paris-Roubaix after her first child in 2021, with a number of aggressive attacks. But in the road race yesterday, Deignan had the chance to go for the win herself. The technical course in Glasgow was one that would certainly play into her strengths. But with no out-and-out leader for the British team, Deignan went into yesterday’s race with no pressure and a relaxed approach.
When she found herself in the lead group in the final laps around the finishing circuit with race favourites Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) and Demi Vollering (Netherlands), Deignan rolled along until 12km to go when she launched an attack. Only Christina Schweinberger (Austria) went with her, and for a second, it looked like no one was planning on chasing. Behind, Kopecky and Vollering were too busy looking at one another to notice Deignan clawing a gap.
This was something we had seen at the Tour de France Femmes a few weeks ago, with Kasia Niewiadoma taking advantage of Demi Vollering and Annemiek van Vleuten looking at one another instead of her while she managed to get some distance between herself and the two Dutch riders, which saw her take second on the Tourmalet. However, Deignan wasn’t allowed such a big gap as Marlen Reusser sensed danger, and the Swiss rider attacked with Lotte Kopecky sticking to her wheel.
“I was hoping the big names would cancel each other out and they did a little bit at one point. I managed to sneak away and to be honest, I just kind of thought I just need to roll through because if I don’t, then my chances of winning was less,” Deignan said.
In the end, Kopecky won the title as the women’s road world champion and Deignan came sixth behind her rivals, an enormous feat for a rider who had only come back to the professional peloton a few months ago. “We were always with the moves,” she said about the British team’s overall performance. “We were just outgunned in the final, it wasn’t anything other than not having the legs to follow the best in the world.”
Looking ahead to her future, one that looks bright based on her performance over the last few months, Deignan noted she had further to go with her form. “I’m optimistic about my performance,” she added. “I know the kind of ups and downs I’ve had before this and there’s no such thing as perfect preparation, but, a solid winter I think will make a lot of difference.”
If only a few months can get her to the form she demonstrated yesterday, rivalling the world champion, then after a winter of training, Deignan will no longer be able to slip off the front because her rivals will certainly need to be watching her.