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Cyclist’s 31 Inspirational Women No23: Lizzie Deignan

Maria David Sponsored
23 Mar 2021

World Road Race Champion in 2015 and Olympic silver medallist at London 2012

Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women

To celebrate International Women's Month, we have partnered with Zwift to tell the stories of 31 inspirational women across 31 days

Words: Maria David Photo: SWPix

From the sinewy roads of Otley, West Yorkshire to the glitzy roads of Monte Carlo; from hanging on in a peloton of Yorkshire’s finest MAMILS on a grey Wednesday night town centre criterium to out-sprinting the great Marianne Vos along a sunny Promenade des Anglais in Nice, Lizzie Deignan has come a long way.

The early days weren’t so straightforward, though. Lizzie’s rise to prominence came in the shadow of a dominant Nicole Cooke, which at times led to tense situations.

Famously, at the 2011 World Road Race Championships, Nicole was a designated lead-out rider for Lizzie but failed to wait for her when Lizzie was caught behind a crash.

This had been preceded by criticisms from Cooke who accused Lizzie and her Cervelo Test Team mates of riding as a team to isolate her and prevent her from winning the National Road Race Championship.

I had dedicated so much of my life to cycling, a sport which none of my friends from school really understood or cared about. But suddenly they were interested and proud of me. That was really nice

Fortunately, matters were ironed out by the time the London 2012 Olympics took place, and the nation watched Lizzie reverse Team GB’s cycling misfortune in the men’s road race the previous day to take a silver medal.

Lizzie fondly recalls the day:

‘Winning the Silver medal at the London 2012 Olympics is still the most significant memory of my career. Having the opportunity to compete at a home games was a real privilege, and the intensity of the atmosphere on the Mall still gives me goose bumps.

‘I remember seeing my family after the race, and everybody being so happy and carried away with the almost carnival-like atmosphere in London at the time.

‘It was a very special summer of sport in the UK and I was the lucky one who kickstarted all those GB medals.

‘It was a bizarre feeling but also euphoric, it was so nice to see the whole nation come together and celebrate sport.

‘I had dedicated so much of my life to cycling, a sport which none of my friends from school really understood or cared about. But suddenly they were interested and proud of me. That was really nice.’

Since those days Lizzie has become a force to be reckoned with in the women’s peloton, securing victories at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Strade Bianche, the Tour of Flanders, the Women’s Tour, and the World Road Race Championships in Richmond, USA in 2015.

There have also been a few hiccups along the way. Lizzie underwent emergency surgery for appendicitis shortly before the World Championships in 2017.

The year before, and just days before the Rio Olympics, Lizzie used emotional energy successfully appealing in the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a potential two-year ban after three out-of-competition drugs tests were recorded by the UK-Anti-Doping Agency.

Steadfast, just like the title of her book, the Yorkshire lass has moved on. Now married with a two-old-daughter, Lizzie has had a crash course in time management, juggling being a mum and a professional bike racer.

‘As a mum, I’ve had to learn to be canny with my training. I can’t be absolutely knackered all of the time because I have a daughter to look after when I get off the bike. So I have to avoid that intensive fatigue.

‘I do fewer hours – less volume, more quality – but I don’t think it’s having a negative impact on my performance. In fact, I think it’s making me better.

‘I love being a mum. 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 [my daughter] Orla worthwhile. I want her to grow up knowing she can achieve whatever she sets her mind to.’

Find the rest of Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women here

Lizzie ended the 2020 season top of the UCI WorldTour rankings having taken four victories, including outsprinting Marianne Vos in front of millions around the world at La Course.

Held on the first day of the men’s Tour de France in Nice, Lizzie snatched victory from the flying Dutchwoman in a thrilling finish along the Promenade des Anglais.

Speaking at the finish line, Lizzie said, ‘I was relieved that I won it. What a performance from Trek-Segafredo today! Every single rider played their part. [Elisa Longo Borghini] did the perfect job and forced Marianne [Vos] to sprint early and I took advantage.

‘To be part of Trek-Segafredo is the best feeling, because it’s a team victory.’

Lizzie is proud to be associated with a team that announced in January that male and female team riders would be paid equally with immediate effect.

The minimum wage for their female riders is now €40,045 (up from the UCI minimum of €20,000).

While this is great news for women’s cycling, more than half of the women’s professional peloton earns less than €15,000 per year. But Lizzie stresses that this shouldn’t put women off becoming professional cyclists, as opportunities are continuing to improve.

‘I would absolutely recommend cycle racing as a career for women. Even the highest-earning male professionals started racing because they loved it, not because they dreamed of becoming rich.

‘Times are changing, and the possibility to earn a living from female racing is no longer just a dream.’

For more from Zwift this International Women's Month, visit here.