Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) will make her return to racing on home soil at the RideLondon Classique this week. The former World Champion spoke excitedly at a press conference about competing on British roads for the first time since the Women’s Tour in 2021, the last race she did before going on maternity leave.
The RideLondon Classique is a three-day World Tour stage race around Essex and London. It was started in 2013 as a one-day legacy event for the London 2012 Olympic Games, where Deignan won Team GB’s first medal of the games, a silver, behind Marianne Vos in the road race.
Deignan made her eagerly anticipated return early at the Ardennes Classics before going to La Vuelta Femenina, again in a domestique role but believes that she can be back at the sharp end of a race on home roads.
“The Vuelta was all about trying to protect my GC riders so I had a very specific job there, but I think RideLondon is probably the first race where I feel like I’ll be able to be in the mix and able to be tactical rather than just surviving,” said Deignan in a press conference.
“On my form, I’ve learned again for the second time that you can be flying in training and as fit as you want, but there’s just no replacement for racing.
“You can’t suffer as much as you need to, or accelerate as many times as you need to.
“I think the finesse and the race rhythm have come back really quickly so I’m excited to do RideLondon. Even in the last week, I feel like I’ve taken another step forward in my performance.”
The highly decorated Brit was quick to stress how the racing has changed after being out of the peloton again.
“I think on both the men’s and women’s sides, it’s getting harder and harder,” she said.
“Everybody is pushing their limits and the performance levels are getting stronger, particularly in women’s cycling. The investment and changes we’ve seen mean in the peloton, the level of performance is deeper.
“It’s simply harder than it’s ever been before, which is great!”
Deignan made an earlier return to racing than expected at the Ardennes Classics, before completing La Vuelta Femenina. She worked in aid of 21-year-old Gaia Realini on both occasions and relished reuniting with her Trek Segafredo teammates.
“It’s like I’ve never been away [from the team]. I’ve raced with a lot of the girls already, but I had quite a few new teammates and that’s always a bit of a risk, but the management has made really good signings, the team dynamic is solid and everyone is really positive and motivated,” Deignan told Cyclingnews.
“It was really exciting to work with Gaia. There are not many times you work with someone who you really know is going to be a superstar in this sport.
“I see that she is going to have a phenomenal career, she is pretty exceptional.”
After taking a hiatus from racing in 2018 for the birth of her first child, Deignan’s first returning win came on British soil at the queen stage of the 2019 Women’s Tour, before taking the overall victory there.
At RideLondon however, Deignan is provisionally set to form part of a Trek-Segafredo team focused on the flatter finishes and succeeding with another former World Champion, Elisa Balsamo.
She hasn’t ruled herself out though, and does suit the punchier profile of stage 2 which starts and finishes in Maldon, Essex.
“We’re going there for the win, if it’s not me then it should be one of my teammates. Elisa Balsamo is one of the fastest sprinters in the world and she’s in great shape. The whole team that is going is really strong,” Deignan said.
“I think stage 2 suits me the best because it’s the most dynamic and probably offers the most opportunity for breakaways.
“It’s unrealistic of me to be able to do anything in a bunch sprint, particularly when I’m teammates with Elisa Balsamo. I’ll be in her service on those days.”
Deignan was happy with her role in the team despite having been World Champion on the road in 2015 and having races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour of Flanders and the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes on her illustrious palmarès.
“I started my career as a worker and worked my way up to being a leader in the team. At the moment I’m very much in a worker’s role again because my form is building,” said Deignan.
“There will come a point in the season, I hope, where I’m a leader again but I’m more than happy to work for my teammates. Every victory I’ve ever had has been the result of teamwork.
“It’s a shame sometimes in cycling that doesn’t always come across, particularly in women’s cycling, we haven’t always been able to showcase it on TV, so there’s a lot of unsung heroes that I owe many victories to. Somewhere down the line, I know I’ll get my opportunity.”
Deignan was particularly excited about returning to the Mall on Sunday’s stage which consists of eight laps of a circuit in central London.
“The best way to show people and to inspire people to race is to race in front of them, be part of that circuit race atmosphere in London,” said the former four-time British national road champion.
“There’ll be countless little girls on the side of the road watching that will be enthralled by cycling because it will bring a certain kind of festival atmosphere that there is when a bike race comes to a city.”