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Lizzie Deignan: Preparing For The Unexpected

Tips you can take from Strade Bianche

Wet, narrow roads and a nervous, tightly packed peloton; it’s what gives the spring classics their unrivalled appeal and a never-ending series of surprising moments which can threaten to dash an entire race in a matter of moments, no matter how solid the winter preparation has been.

Even when fate plays a hand and things don’t quite go to plan, how do the top athletes gather themselves and make sure they take away the positives from the experience?

And what tactics do they employ to cope with the typically challenging conditions?

We asked Wattbike Ambassador Lizzie Deignan, who recently clinched a well-earned third place podium spot at the opening bike race of the season, the Strade Bianche in Tuscany, despite a series of eventful circumstances.  

We find out what she took away from the race coming back fresh from an off-season, and why there is still so much more to come from the Boels-Dolmans Pro Cycling rider as she prepares for the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, event number three of the UCI Women’s Road World Tour, this weekend.  

Going in as the title defender of the Strade Bianche but with a slippery race conditions this year, you scooped a third place podium finish at the opening race of the season – how are you feeling about it all now you’ve had a chance to reflect? 

I’m really happy with my result. Prior to the weekend it was difficult to know what to expect after a difficult winter. I had quite a disrupted period of training going into the race so I was about two weeks behind where I wanted to be in terms of how much intensity I had done. My goals are later in the season than normal so to start on the podium shows my form is already better than I need it to be. 

It was a thrilling race as Brand and Gillow made a daring counterattack on the final steep climb, but it wasn’t quite enough in the final 500 metres, with Borghini taking the final sprint to the line. Admittedly a TV motorbike didn’t help matters at the finish, which must have been frustrating. How much of a critical impact did this have on the outcome? 

Catching the other riders at the same time as a motorbike 10m from the final corner obviously isn't ideal and it shouldn't happen, but I don't want to take anything away from Elise's victory and I should have anticipated there being less room. 

After the race, you mentioned that positioning may have affected your performance. How do you go about making sure you’re in a good position to attack when the time is right? 

Experience definitely helps. In Strada you need to be first going into the final corner but to be there you need to make your move late as the final ascent is so steep. Whichever race you are doing, a recce of the final leg is always an advantage as you can plan your moves logically rather than seeing them for the first time at the end of a difficult race, with fatigue has potential to cloud your judgement.

Conditions were hardly perfect in the rain but it didn’t seem to affect the race – in fact it was quite inspiring to watch you all just get on with the job. How do you manage riding in the wet?  

We were fairly lucky that it was quite mild that day, and although it was wet, it wasn't cold. I like racing in the rain, it adds another challenge to an already difficult race - the more challenging the better for me. Simple things like choosing a brighter lens in your glasses or being more focused on eating during the quiet periods of the race help counteract the challenge of the rain.

Motorbikes aside, you were also forced to embrace a leadership role to cover for illness and injury within the team which you weren’t planning for. As the race unfolded, it seemed like the team had to adapt tactics and race defensively, rather than aggressively.  How easy is it to deal with live situations that are outside your control during a race without letting it affect your performance?  

It’s very rare that you go into a race and exactly what you planned for happens. That's the aspect of bike racing that I love; it’s not just a physical sport, it’s a game of tactics too. When we have radios the pressure for a new plan falls to the DS in the car. When we race without them, we rely on good communication within the team, which we have after seasons of racing together. 

Obviously you’re all coming back fresh from the off-season. Would you say that nerves are a little higher in the peloton compared to other races in the season? 

The first races are always stressful, because everyone is fresh again but also because of the nature of the first races. Stereotypically the spring races are raced over narrow roads in bad weather conditions which makes for a nervous, tightly packed peloton.

Racing comes thick and fast through classics season with races every weekend. It’s great for us watching at home, but that’s a huge toll on your body. How do you make sure you’re in the best racing form every time you roll up to the start line?  

I have worked my way up to a position in the team where I am able to pick and choose my calendar to some extent. The difficulty comes with the amount of travel and lack of time for training. If you race too much then you only race and recover, and you will gradually lose form. I make sure that when I do have a weekend off then I prioritise training my weaknesses. Sometimes I also train through races that are not specific targets. 

We’ve seen pictures of you on the Wattbike over your winter months. How has off-season training been going? Would you say you were in top shape for the race or is there still more to come?  

We had a few weeks where the weather was really bad so I used the Wattbike a lot. I’ve also used the Wattbike to work specifically on my sprint. I needed to focus on it again after focusing so much on my climbing last season. My off season has gone well; there were of course periods where it could have gone better but overall I’m very excited for the 2017 season.

 So what can we take from Lizzie to benefit our own riding and racing?

1. Expect the unexpected

Be it weather, illness, injury, bad luck or even other riders, there will always be elements of an event you cannot control. The key is your attitude towards it. Plan for the unexpected, stay calm and remain flexible when situations beyond your control do arrive. It will help you to achieve clarity and perspective.  

2. Boost your brain power without the need for energy gel

Don’t allow adrenalin and fatigue the pleasure of clouding your performance. Anticipate various scenarios before you start, recce the course, think about the possible outcomes, plan your nutrition and make decisions about how you will race tactically beforehand, not when your brain is in overdrive on the big day.

3. Use calmer periods to prepare for more challenging ones

It goes without saying that you can minimise the stress of a challenging part of any event by preparing well beforehand – packing the right kit and the right nutrition or getting to know the race route, for example. But you can also minimise future stresses as you’re riding. If you’ve an opportunity to sit in and protect yourself from the wind, take it, if you can hydrate on a flatter, easier part of the course to help you tackle an upcoming hilly section, make sure you do. 

4. Work on your weaknesses in training

Don’t be afraid to address them when you have the chance to do so in a controlled environment. Whether it’s your improving your sprint, your recovery, threshold power, or pedal efficiency, use tools like the Wattbike tests and Polar View to measure and manage these elements with total precision.  

To develop your sprint like Lizzie, download and connect to the Wattbike Hub and try our ‘Sprint’ workout or visit our Train Pages for more training advice and training plans.  

You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @wattbike to show your support for our ambassador Lizzie Deignan.