Lizzie Deignan, the British Trek-Segafredo rider, gave birth to her son, Shea last September 24th. Seven months later, she returned to professional racing in the Ardennes Classics. Now, this accomplished cyclist is about to compete in La Vuelta Femenina by Carrefour.es, starting May 1st.
A top-notch cyclist with victories in the UCI Road World Championships, Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège under his belt, Lizzie has become a role-model to others and an example of how to balance life as an athlete and as a mother.
Many names will stand out amongst the 161 riders who will start La Vuelta Femenina by Carrefour.es on May 1st in Torrevieja. There will be a current world champion in Movistar Team’s Annemiek van Vleuten, a former speed skater-turned cyclist in EF Education’s Femke Beuling, an internationally-renowned climber in Liv Racing’s Mavi García and also one person whose aura transcends the sportswoman in Trek-Segafredo’s Lizzie Deignan.
Elizabeth Deignan, née Armitstead was born in 1988 in Otley, Great Britain. She has consistently been one of the best riders in the world over the last 10 years. A powerful rouleur with a strong enough kick as to pull victories in both uphill and sprint finishes, she has collected victories in such landmark events as Strade Bianche, the Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and La Course by Le Tour de France.
Deignan’s legend as a cyclist largely came from three pivotal performances. One was the silver medal she claimed in the London 2012 Olympics, losing gold to Marianne Vos in the final straight. The second was the rainbow jersey she earned by winning the 2015 UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Canada. The third, her outstanding triumph in the maiden edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes.
Six years passed between Richmond and Roubaix, one of which is left blank on her athletic record – 2018. That’s when Lizzie Deignan and his husband Philip conceived Orla, their daughter, who was born on September 23rd that year. Her comeback to the top level of cycling set an example to many riders who were unsure about starting a family while still competing, as well as, importantly, to many teams reluctant to see their athletes get pregnant. Fast forward four years and Lizzie has done it again. She gave birth to her son Shea in September 2022, yet started (and completed) both La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège last week. Her next challenge is to ride La Vuelta Femenina by Carrefour.es. Here, Deignan explains how her pregnancy was from the point of view of an athlete, how she has planned and executed her comeback, and her expectations ahead of La Vuelta Femenina by carrefour.es
– Let’s start with a timeline. Which was the last day you rode during Shea’s pregnancy?
I rode the day before I gave birth – so I was pedalling right until the end. Actually, I exercised on the rollers during the last week on pregnancy.
– How does it feel to pedal with a baby in your belly?
Actually, towards the end of the pregnancy is almost easier to ride a bike than to walk, as you aren’t load bearing. Cycling is an easy, natural way for me to move my body and to move the fluids around. At times, I felt as if I had been on a very long flight and I just wanted to move my body and move the fluid out of my ankle, and sweat a little bit. It wasn’t about training by that time – just about keeping my legs moving!
– When did you first began racing on a bike?
I first started racing when I was 15 years old. I wasn’t part of a cycling family. I just was talent-spotted in school – an unusual way to start, really. We were having the London 2012 Olympics and British Cycling basically went into schools looking for cyclists, because there weren’t enough young people taking on cycling, particularly girls. I took part in some tests and ended up being selected.
– After so many years, I guess pedalling is such a part of your daily life…
Yeah and I feel that’s also why as a pregnant woman you have to decide whether it is a risk or not to ride your bike. For people who are not cyclists, they might look at a pregnant woman riding and think it is a huge risk. But actually, if I was not to cycle it would be a big risk for my mental health. Nine months is a long time to not go out and exercise. I always took every precaution I could for cycling. I never went out in the middle of the day, when it was hot, or on routes with a lot of traffic. But I definitely needed to ride my bike to keep my mental health in a good place.
– How long did it take from the birth of Shea until your first outing on the bike?
Around four and a half weeks. At the beginning, I just rode short distances and only when I felt I could. Until he was nine weeks old, I couldn’t really train again, as I couldn’t have any structure on my days. Normally, doctors advise not to do any exercise for six weeks after birth, in order to let the body heal and recover. But you know, six weeks without doing nothing is too much for me. From then, it took me three months of riding in order to regain the capacity to train and put some work in my legs. I had to get accustomed to riding my bike without a bump. Besides, taking care of a new-born takes so much energy…
– Pregnancy and birth are such shocks for a body – and a life!
It depends. I guess every pregnancy is different. With my daughter Orla, which was my first pregnancy, I felt I recovered faster than with Shea. On this second pregnancy I gained more kilos, and picked up more fatigue, so I couldn’t ride than much and I lost more fitness. Some people say than a boy takes a bigger toll on a mum’s body than a girl and I would agree with that, in my experience!
– How are you structuring your training right now? Do you encompass it with the routines of your baby?
I have been breast-feeding my son until four weeks ago, when he turned six-months-old. That took a lot of extra pressure and organisation around timing to be home. I couldn’t leave for longer than three hours, because he needed to feed from me. Since I stopped breast-feeding, I have more energy and am able to focus a bit more on my training.
– How supportive has your team, Trek-Segafredo, been through pregnancy?
They have been incredible. They gave me full maternity pay, so I didn’t have to worry about the financial situation of the family, which is of course a big deal. They gave me flexibility, as they didn’t expect me to attend any training camps, because they knew that I wanted to feed my son myself and it would probably not work to bring him to a training camp even if they said I could if I wanted to. And also, they haven’t put any pressure on me to race before I am ready. They have been very patient and supportive.
– When did you decide to take part in La Vuelta Femenina by Carrefour.es? What do you expect from the race?
I decided to include this event in my schedule pretty early. Following my experience with my first child, I knew I needed six or seven months to get back to decent racing fitness. La Vuelta Femenina by Carrefour.es fitted in a very perfect place on the calendar. It is going to be a really big challenge for me and also a very nice race. The course has a couple of flatter days on which I can hopefully find my racing mindset again, and maybe add something to my teammates on the hilly days.
– What are the goals of Trek-Segafredo for this race?
To win, basically. I don’t think we will have a specific leader, but rather a couple of options. My role will be supporting them to the fullest. I am sure some of my teammates will be in contention for victory.
– The narrative of the WWT season so far has been the duel between SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo. Who is winning, right now?
It is prestigious to say that you are the best team in the Women’s WorldTour. We won the UCI World Ranking two years ago and it was massive for the team, so of course we want to pull it off again. So far, SD Worx has got more victories than us, but there is still a long season to go. Hopefully I can help when I am back to chase them back.
- When compared to SD Worx, what are the strengths of Trek-Segafredo?
Hmmm… I think we are similar teams. Both teams have a lot of talent on their rosters, and riders who are pretty good at sacrificing their own ambitions for others. We want to win every race – it doesn’t matter who wins as long as it is a Trek-Segafredo. I see the same at SD Worx, and that’s why they are so hard to beat. It’s quite a levelled-up match.
More information about La Vuelta Femenina by Carrefour.es: www.lavueltafemenina.es