This article originally appeared on Velo News
Lizzie Deignan is expecting it to take up to a year before she's racing at her best again.
The Trek-Segafredo rider is plotting her return to racing late this spring after taking a year out to have her second child, who was born in September.
With the experience of making a post-pregnancy comeback, Deignan knows that it will take time to build toward her peak racing form and she can't expect to come back in race-blitzing mode some eight months after giving birth.
"I’m just going off my experience," Deignan told VeloNews in a telephone interview last week. "I know that physically and mentally, I would say it took a year to really, truly feel like myself again. I remember in 2020, unfortunately, it was the pandemic year, but I was flying that year. After coming back, the season afterward was when I really felt that I hit the ground running.
“I’m expecting it to probably be the same, that it will take a little while to get back into racing this season, and then, hopefully, next season is where I’ll put more expectation on myself."
Nothing is set in stone for Deignan's comeback, but she has her eyes set on May and the newly expanded seven-day La Vuelta Femenina. She could hold out longer and try to get a bigger base, but she doesn't see the point in waiting too long.
It's going to be a shock to the system whenever she gets going, so she may as well get going when she feels like she can have a positive impact on the team and not when she's on race-winning form.
"You can always hope to be better prepared, but at some point, you have to jump in and get going," Deignan said. "I feel like I don’t I don’t have the same pressure to perform straightaway like the last time. I really felt like I kind of had a bit of a point to prove that I could come back whereas this time I feel like I can start racing before I really feel ready to win. I feel like I can contribute to the team so I think May is a realistic target.
"The last time I did Amstel Gold and that was just horrific as the first race back. I think it’s going to be a shock to the system, whichever race I start at."
A year away from sport is a long time in any discipline, but the current development in women's cycling means that it may well be a far larger jump. The last year has seen yet more riders snapped up for WorldTeam salaries and the inauguration of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was a major milestone for the peloton.
Deignan has been a big campaigner for better treatment for women's racing throughout her career, and this development is a result of that push from her and others. Though it means that she will have a harder time jumping back into the bunch, she's delighted to see the development.
"I hope it’s not too big, but I know it’s going to get harder and harder to get results because it is becoming more professional, which is brilliant," Deignan said. "There’s a whole new generation of women now who have the opportunity to train and live like professional athletes but also have the opportunity and the platforms like the Tour de France to perform. Both sides of the fence now are being built up, which is really important.
"I can’t advocate and push for improvements in women’s cycling without accepting the fact that that it's going to have to push me on, too. It’s all good."
The road back
While Deignan now has the benefit of experience, which she didn't have when she was making this journey back in 2019, not everything will be the same. All babies are different, and each pregnancy comes with new challenges so there are still unknowns to manage.
"Being a second-time parent, you kind of know what you’re in for a little bit more. The parenting side has been easier than we expected because we’ve got one of those nice, easy babies that you don’t believe exists until so you get one," Deignan said.
"Shea’s just a very calm baby and he sleeps well and all those things, which makes a massive difference. Physically, in terms of where I am compared to postpartum with Orla, I’d say it’s taken longer to recover physically from this pregnancy. Although we’ve got an easier baby, it was a harder pregnancy."
Deignan kept riding throughout her pregnancy, but she was far from doing the big efforts that would usually make up her training program in a race season. Her rides decreased as she got closer to the birth of her child and riding a bike became more challenging.
Bike riders are used to taking big strides in fitness and form when they come back from a four-week break in the off-season. For Deignan, there has been a bigger mountain to climb with the physical side-effects of pregnancy and birth to deal with alongside the time off the bike.
It has been a fun prospect for Deignan, who is used to looking for small margins of gain, to see such big changes.
"It’s exciting, it’s nice to improve all the time. It can be quite mentally fatiguing when you’re, season after season, just trying to make tiny improvements," she said. "There’s so much work goes into it and the increments of improvement are tiny because you’re looking for tiny percentages at that level, whereas it’s nice to go back to massive jumps in fitness and form, that’s really motivating.
"I miss racing. I didn’t know that I would, I kind of hoped I would, but to see the races going on and to see the Tour Down Under and the girls racing and doing so well already, I’m definitely still motivated to race."
Deignan doesn't have any major targets for 2023, other than building back her form and helping her teammates find results. However, there is one event this year that she would definitely like to be at, the world championships in Glasgow.
It will be the second time she will have an opportunity to aim for a home worlds after the 2019 event in Yorkshire -- her home county -- which came just after she had her first child. Deignan is looking forward to the prospect of racing at home again, though she never thought she would be in this position.
"It’s funny because when I had Orla the world championships the year after were at home and I was like, 'oh, I’ll never be another home world championships.' I thought I’d be retired long before Glasgow, but here we are," she said.
"I’m definitely excited about it, but I don’t know how realistic it is, to what expectations I should have. Firstly, I’d like to try and make the team I mean. British women are getting stronger and stronger, so I’d like to be part of that team. Whether that’s to go for a performance myself or to help the team, I don’t know, at this stage."
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