Team GB’s Lizzie Deignan chats to Abi Jackson about becoming a mum, coping with uncertainty, and how sexism in cycling is finally being tackled.
The Olympics may be one of the biggest events in the sporting calendar – but for road cyclists like Trek-Segafredo and Team GB’s Lizzie Deignan it’s one of many events in a full-on season.
The 32-year-old won the women’s Tour de Suisse in early June, before heading to defend her title at La Course (she finished ninth). Right now, she’s in Italy training for the Giro d’Italia, then it’ll be full steam for the Tokyo Games.
A lot’s changed since she became the first British athlete to scoop a medal at London 2012 however, as Yorkshire’s 23-year-old Lizzie Armitstead. She married fellow cyclist Philip Deignan in 2016, became mum to daughter Orla who turns three in September, and now lives in Monaco, splitting their free time with visits to see family back in Yorkshire and Ireland. And, of course, there’s been a global pandemic to contend with.
We caught up with the Cycleplan ambassador and World, Commonwealth and National Champion to find out more…
You’re in the thick of the season right now. What does a typical day look like when you’re training?
“A training day would be anything between three and five hours of riding, some days intervals, sometimes not. I usually go out around 10am after breakfast, then get home, have lunch, and afternoons are generally things like physio, massage or interviews, and also playing with my daughter. Then dinner and bed. There’s not much space for anything else!”
Is it all focused on the bike or is there much cross training?
“I just do a very basic core routine. I don’t do any gym work.”
So many events have been cancelled or postponed during the pandemic. How have you found navigating all that uncertainty?
“It’s been tricky, but I’ve also seen it as an opportunity to have an advantage. I think it’s important to be flexible and open-minded and not get too anxious about things that are out of my control, and I know that could really hamper some athletes in their preparation.”
Has that mindset been a learning curve for you?
“Throughout the pandemic it’s been about maintaining perspective around the fact it’s just bike racing, and there are so many greater problems facing people. I’m really lucky I’ve been able to continue doing my job, to be outside cycling, and be with my family who have all been healthy.”
The countdown is now properly on for Tokyo – how are you feeling about it?
“I’m excited. It’s good we can actually focus on it going ahead.”
So much has changed in the world, and for you personally becoming a mum, since previous Olympics – does it feel very different this time?
“It feels really different for me. The last Olympics, I was kind of going there as one of the favourites; I was thinking about the Olympics probably every 10 minutes of every day in the lead up. But this time, life is a bit fuller with my daughter and other stuff going on. I can go a day or two without it being on my mind. Then I suddenly catch myself and think, ‘Ah, I’m approaching this differently’. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing, I’m just a bit more relaxed.”
Do you feel like some of the pressure’s been taken off?
“Yeah. I mean, life will definitely go on either way! All the opinions of me, all the expectation around my times, that won’t change. But afterwards, I’ll be brought back down to earth quickly either way.”
There’s been a lot of focus around tackling sexism in cycling in recent years. Do you feel progress is happening?
“Yes definitely. I think society as well has changed in recent years. There’s just nowhere to hide any more, for people being sexist and infrastructures being sexist, and I think cycling has benefited from that too. And the movements that have happened, they won’t regress any more, because it just won’t be socially acceptable. It’s a really exciting time to be a female cyclist.”
Do you think this includes how we view parenthood among professional athletes?
“Definitely. I was quite surprised when I became a parent, the attitudes towards me continuing my career whilst having children, and maternity rights weren’t even in our contracts before I became pregnant. There’s definitely been quite a bit of change recently.”
Do you think in the past, people would just assume having a baby would mean the end of your career?
“Yeah definitely, and I probably would have been guilty of thinking that 10 years ago too. But it’s not until you’re in that situation yourself or coming closer to the age where you want to start a family, that you realise actually you still want a career as well, and they can work together.”
Does Orla have a little bike?
“Yeah, she’s on a little bike, she had a crash this morning! But she does love riding a bike. She loves [riding on the back of my bike] too. I suppose it’s just fascinating, she sees her mum going out on a bike every day, and her dad still does a fair bit of cycling.”
How do you like to unwind when you’re not training and competing?
“Getting to see family as much as possible. That’s been the hardest part of the pandemic, with travel being so restricted, we just haven’t seen our families as much. When we can [see them], it does mean even more to us now, with Orla seeing her cousins and grandparents, you realise that time is really precious.”
Cycling has really boomed. As a pro, do you still feel connected to the simple joy of being on a bike?
“Yeah – and it can be hard sometimes, when you’re in the thick of racing and analysing your training all the time, seeing if you’re improving, sometimes you forget to just enjoy it. But those moments where you remember to enjoy it are priceless. I think I will always ride my bike, even after I’m no longer competing. Those wellbeing aspects of it, I will always need that in my life.”
Lizzie Deignan is an ambassador for cycle insurance provider Cycleplan. Protect your bike with a 30% discount by visiting cycleplan.co.uk