Five years after he won a stage and finished ninth overall in the race, Philip Deignan lines out again in the Vuelta a España with similar form but very different objectives.
The Sky rider is competing in his second Grand Tour of the season and comes into the event having picked up third on a stage in the Giro d’Italia plus seventh overall in the recent Tour of Poland. He’s not thinking personal objectives, though, but rather commits himself totally to team requirements and directions.
“At the moment the whole focus is on Chris [Froome],” he told CyclingTips. “That is why the whole team is here, to support him. So for sure at the moment that is the main objective.”
Froome finished second overall in the 2011 Vuelta and won last year’s Tour de France. He returned to the latter race this year gunning for another yellow jersey in Paris, but crashed heavily on stages four and five and had to withdraw.
Since then he has shifted his focus to the Vuelta and, according to Deignan, appears to have succeeded in getting into top condition.
“He seems in really good shape and really motivated,” he said. “I was training with him last week. He is definitely up for it. For sure we are all here to support him and we have a really strong team as well.
“Where I will fit in will hopefully be in the mountain stages to try to support him as best as I can. I am looking forward to it. That was kind of originally why I came to the team in the first place, it was to be a mountain domestique. So I will get a chance to do that now.”
Deignan sounded relatively confident that he was himself where he needed to be. “I am feeling pretty good,” he said. “Poland was pretty positive, I felt pretty good there. Then I had a few weeks easy and then got another small training block in and now we are here already. I feel okay, I feel ready.
“It’ll take the race to show how I am really going, but I have been feeling good in training. We’ll see when I start racing.”
“It is just all a solid progression”
Folllowing Deignan’s strong 2009 Vuelta, the Irishman was expected by many to build on that performance. It suggested that he was a rider with a lot of potential for the future, but instead he found himself battling injury and illness for several seasons.
Last year marked a return to form, with overall victory in the Tour of the Gila, ninth in the Tour of California, sixth in the Tour of Utah and tenth in the USA Pro Challenge.
That succession of results led to a two year deal with Team Sky, and he has continued to progress since then.
“Already last year I’d a pretty solid year,” he said, saying that he expected to be at his current level this season. “I was pretty consistent. I finally got things working again and was moving in the right direction, staying healthy and stuff like that and being able to train hard. It is not a big surprise, really.
“It is just all a solid progression, being with a good team and having good support, good coaching and all the rest. That has definitely helped as well.”
Another factor which has helped has been his move from Ireland to Monaco. He’s training in warmer weather than before, has less rain to endure and also has a better range of terrain. He’s clear that this has been a big help in riding at a strong level in the WorldTour.
“Being in a different environment is definitely a factor,” he said. “Where I am living now is probably better for me, living in a good climate and training in the mountains. It is probably something I needed to do consistently. Staying in one place, training and being in a good group.
“Living in Ireland was great but it wasn’t really perfect for the type of rider I am. I like warm conditions and I like the big climbs. Ireland had a lot of positives when I was there, but obviously the weather was a big drawback.”
As Deignan makes clear, the Vuelta is 100% about riding for Froome. He’ll commit himself completely to that goal and if things go to plan, the Briton will take the red jersey and defend it until the end.
Deignan’s reward – aside from the bonus the team would presumably get – will be proving that he is a very strong mountain domestique. But he’s also hoping for something else; selection by Cycling Ireland for the world road race championships.
“I am definitely interested in the worlds,” he said. “I haven’t been for a few years now. Part of that was because I didn’t think I had the condition or the circuit didn’t suit me, so I wasn’t really that bothered about going.
“But this year, with it being a hard course and me being motivated, I would be pretty upset if I didn’t go. We will have a strong team there. For sure Dan [Martin] will probably be up for pulling off a result.”