January 28, 2010 by Irish Peloton
Deignan aims for first Tour de France
Second up in the series of season preview posts is the Ulsterman Philip Deignan. He truly announced himself to the cycling world by winning Stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana last September. It was Ireland’s first Grand Tour stage win since 1992 and first Vuelta stage win since 1988 when Seán Kelly won two stages on the way to winning the overall title. On top of this, Deignan also finished a fantastic 9th overall in the Spanish tour. This was the highest of any rider on his own team and higher than seasoned Grand Tour perfomers such as Juan José Cobo and Haimar Zubeldia. Last year he also rode the Giro d’Italia and acted as a domestique for team leader Carlos Sastre who won two stages and finished 3rd overall. His other notable performances last year were finishing 7th in the Vuelta Castilla y Leon, 10th in the Vuelta a Burgos and 12th in the Tour of Ireland. So how can Deignan improve on these results over the coming year?
Well he’s still riding for the same team as last year, the Cervélo Test Team who, according to Cycling Quotient are by far the most successful team outside the ProTour. As they are in fact only a Professional Continental team, they will have to rely on gaining wild card entries to the major races next year. But the fact that they have the current Tour Green jersey champion and a former Tour de France winner in their midst means they should be granted entry to almost any race they choose.
In 2009, Deignan ranked 6th amongst his team mates in terms of results. Finishing ahead of him were the British Roger Hammond and four multiple Grand Tour stage winners, Carlos Sastre, Thor Hushovd, Heinrich Haussler and Simon Gerrans, all of whom except Gerrans will remain at the team for 2010. One of Deignan’s main goals for the coming year will be to participate in his first Tour de France.
Having ridden in and finished two Grand Tours in 2009, he would seem a likely candidate, however nothing should be taken for granted. Of the nine riders who were at the Grand Départ in Cervélo kit last year, seven remain. Leaving the squad in the winter were Jose Angel Gomez Marchante who moved to Andalucia-CajaSur and the kiwi Hayden Roulston who is now at HTC-Columbia. Remarkably, Inigo Cuesta will again be vying for a Tour spot at the splendidly ripe age of 41.
Cervélo have added five riders to their roster this year, the most likely rider to gain a Tour spot being Xavier Tondo. It’s worth noting that the Spaniard finished ahead of Deignan at the Vuelta Castilla y Leon and the Vuelta a Burgos last year and may be considered as a better option to act as a mountain domestique to Carlos Sastre. The two riders who didn’t make the Tour team last year and who are Deignan’s biggest challengers for a berth this year are Xavier Florenico and Ignatas Konovalovas. The former has ridden the Tour twice before during his years at Bouyges Telecom and is a veteran of eight Grand Tours, while the latter is a young chrono specialist who has never ridden the Tour but he did win the final time trial of the Giro last year. If Deignan makes the Tour squad it could be his only three week outing this year and with Sastre, Hushovd and Haussler certain to be on board, another Grand Tour stage win is unlikely. Instead, he should concentrate fully on shepherding former Tour champion Carlos Sastre toward stage winning opportunities or even a podium place.
Deignan has said that one of his other main objectives for 2010 is a solid performance in Ardennes week. Cervélo’s leader for these races from last year was Simon Gerrans who finished in the top ten in all three, but he has since been snapped up by Team Sky. The only other Cervélo rider to show himself during Ardennes week last year was Sastre. With the classics duo of Hushovd and Haussler more focused on the cobbled variety, Cervélo find themselves without an out and out hilly classics rider and as such, Deignan could be given a free role for these races. A top ten placing in any of Liége-Bastogne-Liége, Fléche Wallone or Amstel Gold should be seen as a great success for Deignan. He rode all three races for the first time last year with his best placing coming in Liége-Bastogne-Liége where he finished 44th. He may also be targetting the Irish Road Race Championships. Having never won the race, he currently finds himself the odd one out amongst his peers, with Roche and Martin having won the last two editions between them.
He starts his season on March 3rd at the Tour of Murcia, a race which saw Miguel Indurain take his first major victory back in 1986. He then moves on to race in the Volta a Catalunya, the Ardennes classics, the Tour of California and then the Dauphiné Libéré before hopefully taking to the start line of the Tour de France in July. Perhaps contrary to the general consensus of who has got more talent on the bike, of the three Irish riders at the top of the sport, so far Deignan is the only one to have won a Pro Tour race. With the lofty goals of cousins Roche and Martin, he will have his work cut out if he wants to remain ahead of them in terms of race victories.