Interview: Now that the strength of women’s cycling is being properly recognised, Harrogate will have a new local hero to support during the UCI Road World Championships.
Local cycling fans are accustomed to hailing Mark Cavendish with his family links in Harrogate.
But Lizzie Deignan, née Armitstead, who was the 2015 World Road Race Champion and the 2014 Commonwealth Games Road Race Champion, not only lives in Otley, she also has a house in Harrogate.
While her closest rivals may currently be scouting out the routes in the Harrogate district and further afield in Yorkshire, one of Britain’s greatest-ever female cyclists tells the Harrogate Advertiser that to her the roads in question are simply ‘home’.
Lizzie, 30, who won silver at the London Olympics, said: “I never expected to be in the position of riding in the UCIs in my home area.
“I couldn’t be more excited. I know the circuit inside out. I know all the roads and every pothole. I know exactly what’s coming.”
There have been significant grumbles about the UCIs coming from certain quarters in Harrogate who are feeling cycle fatigue after the town’s role in major events over the last five years.
But, as someone who’s excelled in the UCIs wherever they have taken place round the world, Lizzie says Harrogate is going to love it.
She said: “Every championships causes some disruption but I think the enthusiasm will come through when it matters.
“There are going to be a lot of surprised people. Everyone will be surprised by how exciting the UCIs are and what fun it is.”
This year has been a comeback year for Lizzie after the birth a year ago of her baby girl Orla.
But she laughs at the suggestion the birth was timed to enable her to return to cycling in time for the UCIs.
Lizzie said: “No, that’s rubbish! If the birth had been any later it would have been too much of a rush getting back.
“Even so, I’m not in the dominant form when I won in 2105 in Virginia in the USA.
“I was favourite then and delivered. This time I’m only on the list of possible winners.
“But it’s certainly possible if race day goes my way.”
Lizzie’s experience and strength will be bolstered by home advantage and her intimate knowledge of the route for her key race on the UCI’s final Saturday.
The Women’s Elite Road Race will begin in Bradford at 11.40am and finish 150km later at 3.36pm in Harrogate with three laps of the town centre circuit.
In keeping with Yorkshire’s aim to raise the profile of women’s cycling, the route Lizzie and her rivals will be riding will, in some ways, be more challenging than the men’s.
Lizzie said: “It’s an interesting course. It will lend itself to really aggressive racing. As a spectacle, it will be really exciting. Previous courses were a lot less technical.
“Some places aren’t marked on the maps as a climb but, if you’re on a bike, you can feel it. But I’m used to the relentless terrain.”
If Lizzie is to beat the world in Harrogate in three weeks time, home support will be crucial. She said: “The home crowd boosted British riders at the Olympics in 2012.
“Having a home crowd is worth about five per cent in a race.”
Lizzie Deignan has now been announced as the ambassador for Cycle Expo Yorkshire, the UK’s most engaging cycle show, for the second year running.
The exciting cycling expo will take place at Harrogate’s Yorkshire Event Centre on September 21-22 and will feature opportunities for visitors to get involved, attendance from industry professionals including Deignan and a range of exhibitors including Raleigh, Vielo and Hope Technology.
For tickets and more information visit: www.cycleexpo.co.uk