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'Yorkshire roads are like nowhere else' Deignan looks ahead to World Championships

Before the climax of Ardennes Classics in Liege, we look at on-form riders Deignan, Bastianelli and Van Vleuten and ahead to Yorkshire 2019

Maria David
26 Apr 2019

With three tough Classics to tackle – Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallone and the upcoming Liege-Bastogne-Liege – this week has been a key moment for the top female professional racers to show their true form and for us to know who to look out for when the women race on the roads of Yorkshire next week, and later this year at the UCI World Championships.

In previous seasons there have been clear favourites at the races. Notably two seasons ago, Boels-Dolmans was the team to beat with Anna van der Breggen and then teammate Lizzie Deignan regularly doing a one-two at the Spring Classics.

However, this year has seen a changing of the guard, with the UCI Women’s WorldTour rankings and youth rankings being dominated by one of the minnows of women’s racing, Virtu Cycling, an outfit co-owned by Bjarne Riis.

Marta Bastianelli, whose sprinting power gave her victories at the Tour of Flanders, the Ronde Van Drenthe and the Omloop van Het Hageland, sits atop the rankings and has never been lower than eighth in her races. Her Italian compatriot and teammate Sofia Bertizollo, who placed fourth at Flanders is second in the U23 rankings.

Although Bastianelli leads the rankings it has not been one-way traffic by any stretch of the imagination. With races being so wide open, picking a winner has been like trying to choose the best beer in this part of the world.

Firstly we spoke to Lizzie Deignan, but you can skip ahead to see what Annemiek van Vleuten and Marta Bastianelli had to say about their Classics campaigns and their thoughts on Yorkshire.

Lizzie Deignan: Back racing and relying on local knowledge

Otley born Lizzie Deignan, back from maternity leave and now racing for the newly-formed Trek-Segafredo women’s team showed promising signs at the Amstel Gold Race when she forced the pace early on, and has built on her form when she was also active at the Fleche Wallone, and now has her sights set firmly on Yorkshire.

'I didn’t ride a bike for six weeks after having Orla but as soon as I could I started going on long walks with her which then became runs and then when I eventually got back on the bike it felt good,' Deignan says.

'Well actually no it felt horrible but it was exciting to be able to make large gains quite quickly as opposed to always looking for that tiny extra per cent.

'I’ve been really pleased with my progress since having Orla and how my fitness has returned on the bike – a lot quicker than I expected. I also looked at the structure of my season and with my key goal being the World Championships in September I knew that if I want to peak then I shouldn’t be peaking in June but rather taking a break then so returning in April makes a lot more sense.

'I think the new key aspect of my training or impact on my training has been being a mum, particularly as I was breast feeding up until a few weeks ago. I’ve had to learn to be more canny with my training because I can’t be absolutely knackered all of the time because I have a daughter to look after when I get in off the bike.

'So I have to avoid that that intensive fatigue. I do fewer hours. I do less volume. But I don’t think it’s making a difference. In fact, I think it’s making me better.

'It’s been brilliant watching the Trek-Segafredo team so far this season but I’m excited to finally join them. It’s also great to be able to race the Ardennes Classics again and of course the Tour de Yorkshire. I’m really excited about racing in front of a home crowd again.

'I’m really excited about the Tour de Yorkshire route. I know these roads well which is handy as it’s quite technical in places and it’s an invaluable chance to race on part of the World Championships course so I can’t wait.

'I think Yorkshire roads are like nowhere else with some tough climbs and grippy roads and often brutal conditions and thankfully I’ve got the advantage of having grown up on them.

'I love being a mum and it changes everything and means you have another focus, another be all and end all outside of cycling. Plus I want to make my time away from her worthwhile. To be able to win and for my family, for Orla, to be there that’s the dream. I want her to grow up knowing she can achieve whatever she sets her mind to.

'I think the women’s peloton has really moved on even in the year I’ve been out and it’s great to see such strength and depth and different teams having success. I think it’s making women’s cycling even more exciting to watch as you don’t know who is going to win and it’s more competitive.'

Annemiek van Vleuten: Going for three in September's TT

Annemiek Van Vleuten has been the Raymond Poulidor of the recent Classics, having consistently finished second. For the Mitchelton-Scott rider her spring form has been phenomenal, and she has been stronger than in previous years.

Her victory at Strade Bianche earlier this season was a solid launch pad to make serious bids for wins at Flanders, Amstel Gold, and at Flèche Wallone, but was denied respectively by Bastianelli, Kasia Niewadoma (Canyon-Sram), and compatriot Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans), who is coming into winning form after her mountain biking adventure at the Cape Epic.

Van Vleuten’s strength is due in no small part to the gruelling training camp she undertook in January after knee surgery following her crash at the World Championships last year.

This unconventional camp saw the 36-year old doing training rides with the men’s Mitchelton-Scott squad, where she had to hold her own alongside Adam Yates, Mickel Nieve and others. Riding 1800km from Faro to Almeria with them seems to have paid dividends for her this spring.

Van Vleuten will be at the Tour de Yorkshire, and will not only recon the course for the World Championships road race, but will also the time-trial course, where she will be bidding to make it three wins in a row.

'Strade Bianche was my first win in the spring since 2011, and my last win in spring was the Tour of Flanders in 2011. I never won a race in the spring after that, so to win Strade Bianche was very special for me, and also good for my confidence that I know that I’m slightly at a higher level than I normally am in the spring, especially after the injury I had,' Van Vleuten explains.

'I tried so hard for eight years to be at a good level in the spring and I was always good, but not the level that I have in May, June, July around the Giro or the World Championships time.

'The reason I am riding so well is because I joined the Mitchelton-Scott team camp with the guys – all the climbers and me! My coach last year sent me there. He said, "with your injury maybe it will be a nice way for you to catch up a bit." But I suffered so much, I can’t explain how much I suffered – 200km average every day with them. While all my teammates were at the Tour Down Under I was doing the training camp.

'For me, I have to embrace all the suffering so everything that is nasty and horrible and hard, I have to think, mentally I love this because this is where I can make the difference. Like if it’s a flat final I can’t make the difference.

'When I think about the tough parts I know I will be hurting for sure, but this is where I want to put the hammer down. So it is a mental game. If you are hurting, that is the moment to go. If I’m hurting, then they’re hurting, and that’s the moment to attack.

'I know the Ardennes are hard, but we still aim for it. Then when I won Strade Bianche, I thought I will really go for it. So I am really motivated for the three Ardennes races. Afterwards, I am targeting the Giro Rosa and then the World Championships. I am also doing the Tour de Yorkshire, and after I will stay to recon the course.

The World Championships road race is not something that super suits me like last year where I could go super hard. But this year I will still aim for it. And of course there is the time-trial. There is no woman, if I am right, who has won the time-trial championships three times. Judith Arndt won it twice.'

Marta Bastianelli: Chasing the rainbow jersey 12 years on from previous win

Marta Bastianelli has been the woman to beat so far this season, particularly if you are up against her 300m from the finish line.
The sprinter originally from Lazio is no stranger to success, given that she is the current European Champion, and she won the World Championships in Stuttgart ahead of Marianne Vos in 2007.

Life has been even busier for the 31-year-old than for other racers in the last five years as she has had to juggle racing with motherhood. After winning the Tour of Flanders, Bastianelli took a brief pause to be with daughter Clarissa, and returned for the Amstel Gold Race, where she finished in eighth place.

She is not contesting any more of the Spring Classics or even the Tour de Yorkshire, instead opting to do a stage race in the Czech Republic.

However, Bastianelli like all the top racers, is targeting the Yorkshire 2019 World Championships. Victory at the Worlds would be historic given that she would become a World Champion 12 years after her last title.

'I am not racing Liege-Bastogne-Liege or even the Tour de Yorkshire! I would have loved to race in the Tour de Yorkshire because it has the Worlds circuit and I would have been able to recon the course. However, I will be doing the stage race at Gracia.

'I really like racing in Yorkshire because the roads are really challenging, and similar to the Amstel Gold Race.

'I don’t feel so targeted as a leader, and the other teams respect our position. We are a small, developing team, and we will grow, but we don’t fear any of the other teams. Sofia Bertizzolo and Barbara Guarischi have been two really important teammates for me during this early part of the season.

'They have worked exceptionally hard, pushing themselves to the limit, and Anushka has been up there too in a few races.

'It has not been easy being a mum and a road racer, but I always do my best in both jobs. My main objective is the World Championships and for this season I am aiming to be in the best condition possible by following my pre-set racing programme which includes a few more WorldTour races.'


Lizzie Deignan is an ambassador for cycle insurance provider Cycleplan:  
Marta Bastianelli's interview is a translation by the article's writer from the Italian it was conducted in