By Martyn Herman
HARROGATE, England (Reuters) – British cyclist Lizzie Deignan hopes local knowledge will help her resist a formidable Dutch threat on Saturday and reclaim the world road title a year after becoming a mum.
Yorkshire native Deignan used to cycle to school along the route chosen for the UCI Road World Championships women’s race and her pursuit of a second world gold will see her speed past her parents’ Otley home and the church in which she was married.
She was also on home soil, if not so familiar, at the London 2012 Olympics but was powerless to stop Dutch great Marianne Vos storming to gold in a rain-drenched race.
The orange train will block her path again on a 149.9km trek from Bradford to Harrogate — a rollercoaster ride featuring two fearsome climbs and predicted to be ridden in rain and wind.
Not only does the Dutch ‘dream team’ boast three-time world champion Vos, it also has defending world and Olympic champion Anna Van der Breggen, Giro Rosa winner Annemiek Van Vleuten and 2017 road world champion Chantal Blaak.
“The Dutch team meeting is going to be incredibly difficult. They have so many women that can win the world title. How they manage that will be interesting,” Deignan, who has targeted gold in Harrogate since returning to the saddle after giving birth to daughter Orla, told reporters.
“The Dutch are just a powerhouse.”
Deignan will rely heavily on team mates Alice Barnes, Nicola Juniper and world championship rookie Lizzie Banks to try and draw the Dutch sting. But she says while they lack the Dutch quality, she has the advantage of having ridden the route “thousands of times”.
“It’ll just be surreal, yeah it will be a ‘pinch me’ moment for sure,” Deignan said of racing past familiar landmarks.
Trek–Segafredo rider Deignan says returning as a mum has been a ‘learning curve’ but said she feels as good as when she won the 2015 title. She says there has been “a huge jump” in the women’s peloton since she took a maternity break, though.
But knowing the terrain could give her an edge in what she says will be “tactically a very tough race.”
“It’s undulating and relentless, positioning will be key,” Deignan said. “You have these rollercoaster roads that, if you’re in the wrong place, you’re climbing hills rather than using them. There’s lots of places where you can save energy. I know it like the back of my hand.”
Thousands of fans will gather to cheer Deignan up the Norwood Edge and Lofthouse climbs, as well as in Otley and in Harrogate. Expectation is reaching fever pitch for the local girl but she is undaunted by the pressure to deliver.
“It would be crazy to see it negatively,” Deignan said. “Although I’m hugely motivated, it’s just a bike race and the world will carry on turning whether I win or lose.
“I’m determined to enjoy it.”
Expectation also weighs on Dutch coach Loes Gunnewijk with some suggesting her embarrassment of riches could be a headache, especially with only one rider being able to claim glory.
But Van der Breggen, second in the time trial in which her and Van Vleuten were well beaten by American Chloe Dygert this week, said she would still rather be riding for, rather than against, her compatriots.
“With the Dutch team you cannot watch just one rider because if you do that, another one will attack and you lose the race,” she said. “If you work well together, you can get the result.”
It is not just the Dutch who are a threat though.
Italians Marta Bastianelli and Elisa Longo Borghini will be dangerous, as will American Coryn Rivera and Poland’s Classics specialist Katarzyna Niewiadoma.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)