“It’s like nothing has really changed here, but so much has changed in my life outside.”
The wait is over, and after nearly 18 months, Lizzie Deignan is ready to pin a number on her back and return to racing. Just like her first maternity, the Ardennes Classics will frame again this special moment.
“I’m really excited, it’s a different range of emotions,” she says. “It’s really strange to be back at the same hotel that we always stay at for the Ardennes. It’s like nothing has really changed here, but so much has changed in my life outside. It’s kind of a surreal feeling to be back but also a really familiar and safe feeling to be again with my Team. It was just nice to see everyone with the same, smiling happy faces. I know the staff, I know my equipment. None of that is new and it’s just exciting. Physically I’m good. Training’s gone really well; all of my kind of endurance numbers are really good. Yes, I feel good.
“Many riders have spoken to me, usually privately, about my pregnancy. I’m always pleased to offer my opinion or guidance. But I think that it’s such an individual thing in terms of riders circumstances and team support. I’m just really pleased it’s becoming normal and I hope it could become more and more normal in the future.
Lizzie’s last competition was her home race, the Women’s Tour, early in October, 2021. In February 2022 came the news of her second pregnancy and, in September, Lizzie gave birth to Shea. As with the birth of her firstborn, Orla, in 2018, Deignan returned to racing in the spring season. Initially the schedule included the Vuelta a España, early in May, as her official return, but the Team’s need to cope with the absence of several riders due to injury brought the timing forward.
“The plan was to have a bit more time to prepare for the comeback. I was supposed to start at the Vuelta. But at the end I’m a teammate and it’s really important for me to support my teammates. I could see that they were struggling in terms of bad luck, with crashes and sickness. It would be silly for me to be at home training when actually I can get the same things I need from racing. Obviously I’m not going to be as prepared as they would have liked, but you know the Vuelta is only two weeks away, it’s not like I’ve been called up two months early.”
There's a little bit of a gap in my preparation in terms of the real intensity but I will just use the races for it. There's no pressure on me to be there in the final or to have a result. It's really about just doing what I can for the Team and I'm more than happy to do it.
“The last time I had a year away from racing there was a definite jump in the strength of the peloton,” says again Lizzie. “Now, I don’t know if that will have happened again. Probably it will have. When I stopped for Orla’s birth, I knew like my numbers in training coming back were competitive in terms of comparison to myself and what previously I’ve been able to produce in terms of power. But it had dropped in comparison with the peloton. So, I’m curious to see if that has happened again,”
“In terms of my power it has definitely taken a little bit longer this time to come back. It was a harder pregnancy so that has been difficult physically. But it will be interesting to see, the race programme is a little bit different now. I have that back-to-back racing stages race to bring on my form, hopefully quicker. But yeah, in general, I’m still a bit in the unknown on where my form will be in comparison to other riders.”
Talking about expectations of results may seem premature, but with Lizzie Deignan it is never wrong. When she returned to racing after Orla’s birth, she managed to finish La Doyenne in 7th place and, less than a month later, she won the queen stage and the overall of the Women’s Tour.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege is a sweet memory for me. But I’m realistic and I don't expect to win it again. Not this year, anyway. I really hope to have the benefit of racing. I remember the last time I came back after maternity I found that each race there was a significant improvement, just in terms of race rhythm and sensation on the bike. So, I hope that on Sunday I already feel better than on Wednesday at Flèche.
“It’s pretty clear that me and Lucinda will be the real workers this week. The rest of the team is incredibly strong. Spratty is still coming back from her season last year, I think she’s improving all the time and she feels good. Then we Elisa, whose whose palmarès speaks for itself and you can never underestimate her in the Ardennes. Then again, we have two young girls: Shirin and Gaia. Shirin is proving to be an exceptional talent, she’s quickly progressing in the results. As well as Gaia: it’s impressive how she can climb!”
“I spent time watching the races in the past weeks and there’s no doubt that SD Worx has been phenomenal. They’ve really stepped up but I think that’s not something that’s new, Vollering and Kopecky are exceptional athletes. But I think it’s a long season and you can’t quickly jump to conclusions about our capacity to battle with them. I think we’ll get more and more competitive as the season goes on. They’ve dominated the spring, but for sure we will be back.”
I would say for me the things that motivate me the most obviously are the same objectives, like the World Championships or the Olympics. But it'll be really exciting for me to take part in the Tour de France Femmes and also look for new opportunities.
I am the rider with the most ‘monuments’ at the moment, so I'd like to try and go for new monuments that maybe, and hopefully, we will have in our calendar soon, like Milano-Sanremo or Lombardia. I would love to be able to aim for five monuments in my career, that would be special.