Lizzie Deignan admitted it felt “surreal” to be getting ready to race again as she prepares for an earlier-than-expected return to action at La Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday.
The 34-year-old is back in the peloton two weeks earlier than her planned return at La Vuelta Femenina in early May, seven months after giving birth for the second time with the arrival of son Shea in late September.
Deignan has been pressed into action by injury and illness within her Trek-Segafredo squad but hopes to get the same returns from racing the Ardennes Classics – she will also ride Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege – as she would from training.
“I’m really excited,” Deignan said. “It’s a different range of emotions. It’s really strange to be back at the same hotel that we always stay in. Nothing has really changed here. But so much has changed in my life outside of it. So it’s kind of surreal. It’s a surreal feeling to be back.”
Deignan knows she is missing top-end race fitness but will play a supporting role in a team built around Elisa Longo Borghini and Amanda Spratt, but also including emerging talents Gaia Realini and Shirin van Anrooij.
“I’d planned to have a bit longer to prepare to start the Vuelta, that would be an easier, nicer transition, but professional sport isn’t about what’s easy or nice all the time,” she added.
“It’s really important to support my team-mates and I could see they were struggling to fill the slots with lots of bad luck – crashes and sickness. It would be silly for me to be at home training when I can get the same things from racing…
“The Vuelta is only two weeks away, so it’s not like I’ve been called up two months early. It’s just two weeks.”
In September 2018 Deignan gave birth to daughter Orla before returning the following April. Since then she has collected 11 of her 43 career wins, most memorably the stunning solo success at the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes in 2021, as well as Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2020.
While Deignan can draw on that experience and take confidence as she returns again, the 2015 world champion admitted there are unknowns too.
“The last time I had a year away from racing there was a definite jump in the strength of the peloton so I don’t know if that will have happened again, probably it will have,” she said.
“When I stopped with Orla, I knew my numbers in training coming back were competitive comparing it to myself and what I’d previously been able to produce but it had dropped in terms of the pecking order, so I’m curious to see if that’s happened again.
“In terms of my power it’s definitely taken a little bit longer this time to come round. I’ve said before it’s been a harder pregnancy so that’s been difficult physically.”
Asked what still motivated her at this stage of her career, Deignan pointed to the World Championships – which this year will take place in Scotland – and the Olympics, but also to the new races added to the women’s calendar and those which might yet follow.
“It will be really exciting to take part in the Tour de France, and also the new opportunities which I hope are still going to come,” she said. “I’m the rider with the most Monuments at the moment, so I’d like to go for new Monuments we don’t have yet but maybe we will – Milan-Sanremo and Il Lombardia.
“I would love to be able to aim for five Monuments in my career. That would be wonderful.”