Former world champion Lizzie Deignan announced on Monday she will be returning to the women’s professional peloton for La Flèche Wallonne, the mid-week Ardennes Classic.
Deignan temporarily stepped away from racing at the end of the 2021 season to give birth to her second baby, a boy named Shea.
Deignan is the first woman on a WorldTour team to give birth twice during her career. In both instances, Deignan stopped from racing for a full year. Her daughter Orla was born in the fall of 2018.
Deignan and her Trek-Segafredo team have been instrumental in how teams approach pregnancy and professional cycling. When the American team was building its roster for their first year in the WorldTour the first signing for the team was a very pregnant Deignan. In 2022, when she announced her second pregnancy, the team extended her contract through 2024, giving her the kind of security few riders have even when they’re not pregnant.
In 2020, the UCI implemented new rules for maternity leave and teams and riders alike have adapted their mindset on the matter. In fact, at this moment, four high-profile riders are currently out from racing on maternity leave. Diegnan’s teammate, the ITT world champion Ellen van Dijk, is one of them. The SD Worx rider and former world champion Chantal van den Broek-Blaak is another.
Deignan’s return to the peloton must come as a relief to her team, who is down multiple riders due to injury and illness. Their top contender for the upcoming La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday would be Elisa Longo Borghini, but the Italian recently suffered from a bout of COVID-19 and is still working her way back to top form.
There’s no pressure on Deignan to perform, the British rider will be finding her feet in the peloton again, but her experience and level head will be important for the team’s two young riders Shirin van Anrooij, winner of Trofeo Alfredo Binda earlier this year, and Gaia Realini. Realini in particular goes into the race on Wednesday as a favourite due to the finale atop the Mur de Huy and her climbing ability puts a target on her back.