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An interview with Philip Deignan, August 16, 2005
So far, so very good
First year Irish professional Philip Deignan has had an encouraging start to his career, winning the Tour du Doubs at the beginning of July, placing fifth in the European road race championships one week later and generally riding well against the pros. Still just 21 years of age, the Ag2R Prévoyance rider has coped well with the transition to the paid ranks; the young Irishman took some time out of his hectic schedule to speak to Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes.
Deignan, from Letterkenny in Co. Donegal, secured a two-year deal with Ag2R Prevoyance after a fine run of performances last season. He won two stages plus the overall in the Ronde d'Isard World Cup stage race and also took several other high placings in the espoir series, including eighth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Indeed he could well have finished on the podium had he not been sent the wrong way while in a promising-looking break with fellow Irishman - and VC La Pomme teammate - Nicolas Roche. Deignan took a stage of the Tour of Chablais and won the team time trial championship of France with the Marseille-based La Pomme squad.
Things also went well outside France. His strong climbing ability led to third on two stages of the Baby Giro and when riding against the professionals, he showed he was able to move up a gear with some good performances. Two sixth places and sixteen place overall in the Tour de Langkawi ensured some attention, as did finishing eighteenth overall in the Tour of Britain. Several pro teams expressed an interest but in the end he decided to join fellow Irishman Mark Scanlon in the Ag2R Prévoyance team.
"I wasn't sure how I was going to go in the first year," he told Cyclingnews in recent days. "But starting from the Route du Sud and the Tour du Doubs, it's been going well. I was little bit surprised to win the Doubs race but when the form is good, that is the way it goes."
"I definitely feel that I am a lot stronger than last year. For the last three or four seasons, I have progressed very steadily. Last year I was just a climber, but this year I seem to be a lot stronger on the flat as well. For example, the Region Wallonne wasn't particularly hilly. There were three or four kilometre climbs alright, but they were all real big-ring climbs. They weren't like the Pyrenees or the Alps."
"I think that's probably a big thing which has changed this year. I am a lot better on the flat. It’s not down to special training or anything, I think it's just natural progression. I seem to get stronger as the years go by."
During his recent full racing schedule, he finished sixth on a stage in the Tour de la Région Wallonne, taking seventh overall at the same race before going on to place third on a stage and eighth overall in Paris-Corrèze. He also finished 19th in the Trophee des Grimpeurs and 20th in the Route du Sud in June, showing that he had recovered from the knee injury which sidelined him in the early season.
Next up for the young Irishman are four Italian races - the Tre Valli Varesine (August 16), the Coppa Agostoni (August 17), the Coppa Bernocchi (August 18) and the Giro del Veneto, on August 20. Four days of rest follow, then two more Italian one-day events, before he heads back to France and a crack at the Tour de l’Avenir.
"I don't know yet what I can achieve there," he said. "Hopefully, if the form stays good, I'll go for a stage win or a top five place overall. I haven't really thought too much about it; it is a bit of a goal for the year but I haven't been thinking about it all the time, what I am going to do."
The under 23 world championship in Madrid is also a target, even if he would prefer a hillier parcours to that what will be on offer in the Spanish capital.
Cyclingnews: Well done, you have been going well of late.
Philip Deignan: Yeah, not too bad. I am pretty tired now, though...
CN: You've had a pretty solid season - is it more than you were expecting from this year?
PD: I wasn't sure how I was going to go in the first year as a pro. But starting from the Route du Sud, the national championships, and the Tour du Doubs, it's been going well. I was little bit surprised to win the race (the Tour du Doubs) but when the form is good, that's the way it goes.
CN: How do you feel since that win? Do you feel like your form is the same, or is it building all the time?
PD: Well, I definitely feel that I am a lot stronger than last year. Every year for the last three or four years, I have progressed very steadily each year. I definitely feel a lot stronger than last year.
CN: You had a good ride in the Tour de la Region Wallonne and in Paris-Corrèze. Was that down to your climbing, or have you become stronger all-round?
PD: Well, the Region Wallonne wasn't particularly hilly. There were three or four kilometre climbs but they were all real big-ring climbs. They weren't like the Pyrenees or the Alps. I think that is probably a big thing which has changed this year. I am a lot better on the flat. Last year I was just a climber, but this year I seem to be a lot stronger on the flat as well.
CN: Have you done any specific training to develop that, or is it just natural progression?
PD: I think it's just natural progression. I have just become stronger as the years have gone by.
CN: What is the team's reaction? Are they happy with your riding this year?
PD: Yeah, they are really happy. It's normal. The only thing is when you do well in races, they then always expect more of you. They say "ah, you won this race, so you can go out and do it again this weekend." I had a tough programme there recently; the Tour de la Region Wallonne was five days, I had one day off, then the Polynormande, one day off again and then Paris-Corrèze. It was a really heavy programme. Even after Region Wallonne, they were saying " you did so well there, you can do it again in Paris-Corrèze." They kind of forgot that nearly every other rider in the race hadn't done Region Wallonne and that I might be a bit tired. But I suppose they just have higher expectations of me now than before.
CN: What's up next?
PD: There are four one-day races in Italy, four days off and another two in Italy. Then the Tour de l’Avenir.
CN: What do you think you can achieve there?
PD: I don't know yet what I can achieve there. Hopefully, if the form stays good, I'll go for a stage win or a top five place overall. I haven't really thought too much about it; it's a bit of a goal for the year but I haven't been thinking about it all the time, wondering how I'll get on.
CN: Would you say that race or the world championships is the bigger goal? The world championship is pretty flat...
PD: Well, for the worlds I'll just go out and see what happens. The pro race will probably end up being a bunch sprint, but the Espoirs should be a lot more aggressive and there should be breaks going. So I'll try to get into a break with three or four laps to go and see what I can do.
CN: What is the situation with the team for next year? Do you have any feedback on their chances of getting into the ProTour?
PD: Well, they have sent a file into the UCI to apply for it. I don't know if they're going to get it as yet, but they signed Moreau and Mancebo, and I think they are looking to sign another couple of big riders. I don't know yet.
CN: Is the budget likely to increase?
PD: They're always looking for a second sponsor, and they will definitely need that to go to the ProTour - I haven't heard any news as yet.
CN: When are you due back in Ireland again?
PD: It will probably be the end of October. It's quite a long time to be away!
CN: How is France treating you?
PD: Well, I am back in Marseille now. I haven't been here since before the Irish nationals, because I've sort of been all around the place. I was up in Belgium for a few weeks, then I was in Moscow, then I was all over the place, so...
CN: I presume you were pretty happy with your ride in Moscow [fifth in the European championships]?
PD: I was only half a wheel off a medal, so I was a bit disappointed there. There were four of us away for the last four laps, and then a group of 12 just came across with a lap to go. There was a Czech guy [Frantisek Rabon] that just clipped off at the end. Fifth was good, but when you're so close to a medal, you are a little bit disappointed at the same time.
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Images by Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com