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'I can't transform into Mark Cavendish': Donegal's Deignan focused on steeper climbs ahead in Giro

The specialist climber says that the public’s faith in cycling has been lost, but hopes this weekend’s Irish Giro D’Italia stages can inspire a generation.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

TEAM SKY’S IRISH representative will have opportunities to impress during the upcoming Giro D’Italia, but not until the Grand Tour has long left Irish shores.

Philip Deignan has spent much of the recent months recovering from a broken collarbone and, despite being “pleased with the numbers” after testing himself on Nice’s infamous Col de la Madone ascent, says he is still two weeks away from peak fitness.

Fortunately for the climbing specialist, that lead time will still leave him with five high summits to target for his new team.

Though the Letterkenny man’s lack of race fitness will leave him little room for sightseeing, Deignan would be forgiven if he is distracted for a split second by the bus-loads of supporters promised from Donegal. The extra support though, won’t tempt the Monaco-based rider into putting on a show rather than doing his job.

“I have to be realistic in what I can achieve in Ireland. It’s not like I can go out and transform myself into Mark Cavendish tomorrow and win a bunched sprint,” Deignan joked in Sky’s Dublin offices yesterday.

“I’ve gone through the book and I’ve picked out three or four stages already that’ll suit me  and where a break should go all the way. It’s the same with guys like [teammates] Ben Swift and Eddie Boasson Hagen, there’ll be stages that suit them and all the riders in the team will have their chance which doesn’t happen too often.”

The reason for the switch to democracy in the team is down to a number of factors. Mainly, the big names of Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins have been held back for bigger prizes (and sponsor commitments) ahead; while Richie Porte and Peter Kennaugh have withdrawn through injury. The domestiques are quickly moving up in the world.

Deignan is happy to hand the favourite’s tag for this tour over to the more recognisable line-ups of OricaGreenedge and OmegaPharmaQuickstep, though he is also happy to embrace the pressure and expectation that accompanies a team with two consecutive Tour de France wins.

‘People have lost faith in cycling’

What he is less keen to embrace is the drug-tainted perception of cycling.

“Even in the elevator this morning when I was getting the taxi to the airport, the guy said ‘Oh, you’re a cyclist’,” Deignan recounts with an accusing look to accompany his anecdote.

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“People have lost faith in cycling. Especially since the Lance Armstrong news came out, but I think you’ve got to look at what the sport has done now. The fact that guys have got caught and there’s been a major clearout in the sport mean it’s gone in the right direction. The sport has changed, people have said that in the past, but I’ve been around for a while and talked to plenty of guys in the sport. It’s changed.”

“When I went pro in 2005 I was young and plugging away hoping that the powers that be were taking care of the problem. That wasn’t the case, but I can genuinely say that the sport has changed.”

He added: “You’ll always get asked questions about it. I know what I’ve done: I train hard and I do the job the correct way.

“A lot of people, that’s all they think about, they get real wound up about it. I just do my job, control everything I can, training and looking after myself.”

Deignan’s love of the sport was forged on the steep inclines around Letterkenny. Hills he thirsted to challenge while others preferred to do their two-wheel training on the flat. However, back then, his talents were also being called to the boxing ring, running course and football field. It was his rain-drenched first-person view of a Grand Tour on Irish soil that instilled his ambition.

Now, hopefully, the Irish trio of Deignan, Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin in the field will give way to another Peloton of talented Irish riders.

Legacy

“That’s the exciting part of this. There are going to be tens of thousands of people  alongside the road or watching on TV. So hopefully it will inspire more generations of young kids. We’ve seen in the past few years the growth of cycling is massive in the UK and here. It’s gonna be exciting to see the outcome.”

“I never dreamt when I started cycling that I’d get this opportunity.

“When I was 14 I went down to  Dublin to watch the Tour de France in ’98 and that was what really attracted me to get into racing in the first place. To think that I’m doing it now myself all these years later, starting a Grand Tour in Ireland is going to be a real special occasion.”

“When I look back to 98, I remember the massive  crowds that were there and I’m looking forward to seeing what the turnout is going to be – even if it is going to be wet.”

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