The 2018 UCI Women’s WorldTour “Spring Classics” have come and gone, with some great performances by our fellow women riders. One rider who missed all the action out on the road was the former World Champion Lizzie Deignan. Deignan announced earlier this season that she is placing her racing career on hold, expecting her first child with husband and fellow professional rider Philip.
Other elite women riders who took time away from the sport to raise families, such as multiple Olympic Gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, have set a high bar for Deignan to follow. So, while her teammate and current Olympic Champion Anna Van Der Breggen was setting a high bar of her own, winning the Tour of Flanders, Liege, and Fleche Wallone, Deignan was on the sidelines cheering on her Boels-Doelman team, providing race commentary and insights to news outlets, and looking ahead to her return to the top of women’s pro racing.
Deignan is very straightforward with her perspective about balancing motherhood and a professional sporting career. She believes that the experiences to come will not change her sporting goals, and even provide more focus in her overall approach. “Motherhood is something that’s always had a place on the timeline of my career, but life changes quickly. I never set for myself a timeline towards retirement, winning this race or that race, rather, I have always focused on specific targets. The Tour of Flanders and the World Championships were the big targets I’d set for myself previously, but I’ve come to appreciate that each season would be a stepping stone.”
"I'm excited about the challenge to prove to myself and other riders that you can come back to your career. I can’t stress this enough, it is important for women to know that they can have it all."
While she would like to win Flanders and another World Championships before she finishes her career, she is also looking forward to having this year off of the bike competitively to focus on her family, and recharge her competitive spirit. “I will focus on new targets,” says Deignan. “Having had success at the Olympics before, the 2020 road race really excites me. But mostly I'm excited about the challenge to prove to myself and other riders that you can come back to your career. I can’t stress this enough, it is important for women to know that they can have it all.”
Deignan has penciled in a return to her racing career in June, 2019. “So many things can happen, so we'll have to be flexible and see how the process goes,” says Deignan of her plans. “I want to be cautious, of course, but I will still be goal oriented when I return to the sport. Personally I think it will be an important year for me, because the World Championships will be in York in 2019, which is where I come from. I’ll be grateful and proud if I get a chance to ride it, because the course passes right in front of the house where I grew up.”
Despite the time off from high output training, and of course having a life-changing experience, Deignan doesn’t think motherhood will make it harder for her to race professionally. “Lots of people tell me I'll be a different after having a baby, but professionally I will remain the same, I will be determined and focused,” Deignan predicts. “I’ve always found it difficult to balance things between having a normal life, and my life as a professional athlete. Having a baby may make balancing things a bit tricky, but I will cope.”
Although motherhood is clearly Deignan’s priority for the near future, she isn’t very far from her teammates and is in constant communication with her team. (Of note, The Cyclists’ Alliance would like to commend Boels-Doelman’s team management for supporting Deignan’s path to starting her family, and for continuing to invest in women’s professional cycling.) So, how did Deignan feel watching them perform so well and have so many Classics successes? “I’m really happy, they’ve worked incredibly hard for this success. It all comes down to the level of dedication and commitment that we could see developing at the training camps, and how they came together on the road. I do miss the racing, though!” adds Deignan.
Deignan is a role model to many women racing today, and as a mentor in the UK’s private Dave Rayner Fund rider development program, she believes she can give back to the sport while still racing in her prime years. It is great to see a rider of Deignan’s stature and influence sharing her experiences with up and coming athletes. Mentoring is a key objective of The Cyclists’ Alliance as well, and is the reason we are developing our own program to help accelerate rider development and raise the overall professionalism in our sport. “As I've gotten older, I found that I enjoy working with younger athletes. I get frustrated when I can see they are not meeting their potential, especially if they focus on the bad things – I really want them to learn from those experiences,” says Deignan. And, she adds, “even though I’m currently working with five girls in that program, I could probably make room for a few more.”
Like Deignan, The Cyclists’ Alliance also believes that motherhood shouldn’t restrict your career opportunities in professional cycling. As Deignan said, women can have it all: an elite athletic career, a family, and a future that we can all shape by working together to change our sport. You can play an active role in changing how the world sees women’s cycling, and if you have not joined our Alliance yet, please consider doing so today!