Lizzie Deignan delighted with her balance of motherhood and racing

In a typical season, Lizzie Deignan would expect to be getting battered by crosswinds and cobbles at Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday, or preparing to be caked in rain or dust at Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Flanders next week.

This year, she gets to spend Mother’s Day at home with her husband Philip and three-year-old daughter Orla. Deignan is going to be spending a lot of time at home over the next 12 months. For the second time in her career, she is taking a temporary break from cycling to have a baby, due in September.

At 33, and given the demands of professional road racing, both physical and in terms of the amount of time spent away from home, some might have expected the imminent arrival of a new member of the family to be the moment Deignan called time on her career. Not least because she herself announced a few years back that she intended to retire post-Tokyo 2020.

But far from it. When she announced her pregnancy last month, Deignan simultaneously announced that she had agreed to a new, extended contract with her team from Ella, Trek-Segafredo, taking her through to the end of 2024. She admits she may not stop there either. She is enjoying herself too much.

“I think I was a bit spoiled before,” she says. “On reflection, I didn’t appreciate how good I had it. I had this idea that I would go to Tokyo [and then retire]. But time seemed to go so much faster in the build-up.

“I don’t know if it was having children, or just getting older, but I was like: ‘Oh my goodness, I’m coming to the point where I said I’d be retiring and I don’t want to. But I also want to have more children.’

“So Phil and I had this conversation after Tokyo where we were like, ‘Are we crazy enough to do this again?’ And the answer was: yes we are.”

Deignan says she is nervous and excited about what lies ahead. In terms of her age, she draws inspiration from the success of women such as Annemiek van Vleuten, who at 39 continues to sweep all before her. But the truth is, she is blazing her own trail of her.

You can count the number of mothers in the women’s pro platoon on the fingers of one hand. In fact, you need only one other finger. Italian Marta Bastianelli is the only other WorldTour mum at present.

‘In the next five years, more women will be taking maternity leave’

But times are changing. Deignan’s comeback from her last pregnancy, and success at blue riband races such as the Women’s Tour, La Course by Le Tour and the inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix last autumn, have made others sit up and notice. You can be a mom and a pro rider.

“Financially it just wasn’t possible for a lot of women before,” Deignan says. “Whereas now, thanks to teams such as Trek who have supported me so well, the contracts are getting better. And the maternity clauses are there. I think in the next five years, there will be more women who do it.

“I was talking to some of my team-mates recently about the fact that I wanted to try and have another baby and they’re like, ‘Well, yeah, why not?’ That in itself is a huge shift compared to what it was like before.”

Deignan believes being British might be a factor in her career choices, too. Although she is one of very few professional road riders who are mothers, there are, of course, other high-profile mums in cycling. Dame Sarah Storey and Dame Laura Kenny to name but two, while Kenny’s team-mate, Elinor Barker, is on maternity leave and plans to focus on road cycling on her return from her.

“It helps having others doing the same thing,” Deignan admits. “And seeing other high-profile athletes such as Jessica Ennis return as good as, if not better, than before. But I also think being a working mum is much more normalized in the UK, certainly compared to some of the cultures I’ve come across. Even in terms of simple things like talking about breastfeeding, which is very normal in the UK. It’s not a big deal. Whereas in other countries, it’s like, ‘Oh, you do that in public?’ ”

Deignan admits she will be sorry to miss the defense of her Paris-Roubaix crown next month, and the inaugural Tour de France Femmes this July, not least because the course suits her. But one gets the impression that the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, who by her own admission fell out of love with the sport after the controversy which blew up on the eve of the Rio Games six years ago, when she nearly received a ban for missing whereabouts tests, is a far more balanced athlete now.

Deign races now because she loves it. “I don’t know how it will go,” she says of juggling two kids and a busy calendar. “I don’t know how difficult the baby will be, or how healthy, or all those things. All I can say is I’m open-minded, less daunted by the journey of getting myself back to fitness than I was the last time, and most of all appreciative of the opportunities I have.

“It’s a privilege for me to think that my children will grow up with a mum who is doing a job she loves. Not everyone gets that. I hope it inspires them to try to do something they love.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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