December 1, 2010 by Irish Peloton
A bad year for Philip Deignan
The past year has not been a good one for Irish cyclist Philip Deignan. After winning a stage and finishing 9th overall at the 2009 Vuelta a Espana, a combination of illness and injury scuppered his progress and prevented him from building on this success in 2010. To compound his woes, the Cervelo Test team of which he was a member since its inception in late 2008, folded, leaving Deignan scrambling to find a team willing to employ a rider with a severe lack of results over the past 12 months.
For Deignan the season started in sunny Spain at the Clasica de Almeria where he helped team mate Theo Bos take the win. This was followed by the Vuelta a Murcia where he finished a creditable 25th overall. It was then on to the Volta a Catalunya, an event which saw Deignan’s first of many race withdrawals throughout the year, this time due to illness. He bounced back at the Circuit de la Sarthe where he was in a ten man break on stage one, he ended up in 33rd place overall. Again, a solid performance but the year was about to turn sour for Deignan.
He competed in all three Ardennes classics but only finished one, he placed 125th in Liége-Bastogne-Liége after being involved in a crash in the feed zone. He abandoned Fléche Wallonne and fell victim to a series of mechanical issues at the Amstel Gold Race. Having been diagnosed with fatigue due to over-training, Deignan took a month off before he entered the Tour of California as the G.C. leader of the Cervelo Test Team. However, the American stage race did not go as planned, as again Deignan was forced to abandon, this time due to a bout of food poisoning. He said to Irish Pro Cycling at the time “I was dead for week after California. I couldn’t really get out of bed. I could hardly walk. I couldn’t eat so I lost over half a stone. It was really, really bad”.
Still hoping to gain a place on the nine man team for the Tour de France, to give himself a better chance, Deignan entered the Tour de Suisse rather than the Dauphiné as planned to give himself a few extra days to recover. He seemed to have finally found some form when he was involved in a break on the queen stage of the Swiss national Tour, but yet again before the race reached his conclusion, he was forced to abandon due to illness and was ultimately overlooked for the Tour squad. At this stage the Donegal man decided to take a step back and discover why it was that he was persistantly falling ill.
Having finally been diagnosed with a viral infection, he received the appropriate treatment and he made his return to competition at the race which saw him achieve such good results in the previous year, the Vuelta a Espana. But on the eve of the Spanish Grand Tour, the announcement was made that Cervelo would be ending its sponsorship and that all the riders would be looking for new teams for 2011.
Deignan had a contract with Cervelo which ran up to the end of 2011, so having thought he had job security for a further 12 months, this must have come as a hammer blow. Many Cervelo riders were snapped up by Jonathan Vaughters to form a Garmin-Cervelo super team, but Deignan was not one of these riders. Suddenly, Deignan was a rider who had no results to speak of during 2010, and was facing the daunting task of looking for a new employer.
Often, when riders like Deignan know they are out of contract at the end of the season, rightly or wrongly, they seek to follow personal goals at the expense of team objectives in an attempt to draw attention to themselves. They scramble for a decent result to prove they are worth a contract for the next year. Unfortunately for Deignan, he neither knew that he would be required to find a new team for 2011, nor did he have any form to show his usefulness.
However, there was to be a silver lining surrounding Deignan’s cloud full of mishaps. Due to the complicated new rules which the UCI were applying to determine which teams would be granted ProTeam status for 2011, a rider’s results from both 2009 and 2010 would be considered, with the points of the top fifteen riders contributing to a team’s ‘sporting criteria’ formula. Consequently, Deignan’s Vuelta stage win and 9th place overall in 2009 seemed more important than ever. Ultimately, Deignan ended up being signed by Johan Bruyneel for the American Radio Shack team.
While Bruyneel has been the architect of many big victories since he took over the US Postal team in 1999, I can’t help but feel this isn’t a great move for Deignan, for three reasons.
The first reason is that Bruyneel’s focus seems to be on older riders. The main players in the RadioShack team are Andreas Kloden, Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner and Lance Armstrong (who may or may not retire after the Tour Down Under), they are all over 35 years old. The young Janez Brajkovic was given a chance when he assumed leadership duties whilst riding to victory at the Dauphiné, but amongst this lot it’s hard to see Deignan being given the opportunities to chase his own success. Having been nailed on for a place in the Cervelo Tour de France squad before illness took hold, finally making his Tour de France debut seems like a more remote possibility in 2011.
The second reason is that Radio Shack have only signed up to sponsor the team up until the end of the 2011 season, so Deignan will most likely find himself looking for another new team again this time next year. This puts a lot of pressure on Deignan to achieve results in 2011 – not easy given the first reason above. The chances of Radio Shack extending their sponsorship is doubtful due to the third reason: the doping investigation.
Plenty of the members of the Radio Shack team, including the management are being scrutinised as part of the American FDA investigation into the doping practices of the US Postal team. The inquest will probably continue for months yet, and will no doubt act as a serious distraction to the team as a whole.
Obviously Deignan wasn’t spoiled for choice, he took the best deal available to him and perhaps fortunately given the unexpected circumstances and poor year, he has managed to secure a place on a top ProTeam for next year. Conversely, a man who was spoiled for choice was Taylor Phinney, ear-marked for a step up from the Trek-Livestrong under-23 team to the Radio Shack team, he is one of the hottest property in world cycling. But tellingly, he declined this move and chose to ride for BMC instead. I think Phinney has chosen wisely as Radio Shack will not be around for much longer and offer little in the way of job security.
I can’t help but feel that the sooner Philip Deignan finds another team, the better.