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It’s been a long five years since he won a Grand Tour stage, a period of time with ups and downs, injuries and illness interspersed by some scattered strong performances. The 2013 season saw a return to form and a new team; now, lining out in the Giro d’Italia, Team SKY’s Philip Deignan is hoping to ride well in his native Ireland and also to chase a stage win later in the race.
The Donegal rider was at one point doubtful for the race, breaking his collarbone in a training accident in February. However he recovered well from that and while he had to drop out of the Settimana Coppi e Bartali due to illness, he was seventeenth on stage three of the Giro del Trentino.
Since then he has continued to work on his form and while he believes that it will be in the second half of the Giro d’Italia before he hits top condition, he will start Friday’s team time trial with the Maglia Rosa in mind.
“That would be the dream scenario. That would be the fairytale outcome,” he said, thinking about what it would mean to lead the race in Ireland. “But it is going to be tough to beat some of the others…I know Omega Pharma and GreenEdge have brought teams here specifically to go for the team time trial with. They are going to be difficult to beat.
“But the team has always performed strongly in the past in this discipline. So we will give it a lash anyway, we’ll see.”
In the interview below Deignan speaks about riding the Giro d’Italia on home soil, how his form has progressed and what he hopes is possible later in the race. He also talks about his move to living in Monaco and racing with Team Sky, listing the benefits of his changed surroundings, and weighs up the team’s lineup and goals in the Grand Tour.
CyclingTips: The Giro d’Italia starts in Ireland this week, the first time ever in the country. You are from Donegal, not too far from Belfast. How are you feeling before the race?
Philip Deignan: I am really pleased with the way the last four weeks has gone. Obviously I am starting the race a little bit behind where ideally I would like to be, but when I think back to where I was six weeks ago, I have come on a hell of a lot since then.
Already there were good signs in Trentino that I was in good shape. I think it was a good decision that I had passed on Pays Basque and I had done a really solid block of training after Coppi Bartali. I did two weeks of really good work in Monaco and I arrive in Trentino in pretty good shape.
Since then I have had another ten days to get some training in, so I am pretty happy with where I am at the moment.
CT: You started the season in the Tour Down Under. Did you feel you had had a good winter and that things were going well early on?
PD: Yeah, I had a really solid winter. I moved out to Monaco in November and I was just getting stuck into the training there, getting some decent mileage in. Then obviously we had the big training camp in December. Things were definitely going in the right direction, I think, and that is what has really stood to me now as well, having had a couple of problems. I still had all those miles from earlier on in the winter and I think they have helped a lot.
CT: You were based in Dublin in the last couple of years. Presumably there was a bit of self-motivation needed to get out and train each day, whereas now in Monaco you are around riders of a similar level. Has that helped you, has that helped your focus and the workouts you get?
PD: Yeah, I am definitely in the right environment now. I have all the conditions there that I need, and all the facilities with the coaching staff that live there and quite a few of the riders that are living there. As you say, there is always a good group to go out training with. Six days out of seven there is going to be good weather, and having the big climbs there is also great. It really ticks all the boxes to make the training easier.
It is an easy place to go and get focused and get the work done.
CT: In retrospect, do you wished you moved abroad sooner, or at the time do you think Dublin was right for you?
PD: Well, I think at the time… Living in Dublin, I wasn’t in Dublin all that much. I was in America quite a lot and I was in Boulder, Colorado doing altitude there. I was spending large parts of the winter in Spain. But yeah, having been in Monaco now the last six months, I have kind of thought it probably would have been a good decision to have gone there a few years ago.
CT: Obviously you had that great season last year, so that must have done a lot to get things back on track.
PD: Yeah, yeah, it gave me the confidence again to know that I can perform at the highest level. Especially concerning the year I had the year before. I definitely needed that to get myself a bit of confidence again after the problems that I had.
CT: Can you talk about the broken collarbone and what treatment you had to get after that?
PD: Well, there wasn’t that much treatment that we could do. We decided against the operation so it was really just about letting it heal naturally, and obviously getting all the physio work done on it to help mobility of the joint. But it just took time. It was quite frustrating that after three weeks it didn’t really feel like it was improving, then all of a sudden in the fourth week there was a massive improvement and I was able to go out and train.
So I didn’t lose a huge amount. I was only off the bike for ten days. Then I had a week on the ergo and then I was on the road after that.
I suppose it just takes a lot more time to get the fitness back. You lose the fitness quicker than obviously it comes back.
CT: Did you hit a car in training?
PD: Yeah. A car basically just locked up in front of me one day and I couldn’t get stopped.
CT: Was that the first broken collarbone of your career?
PD: It’s not, it’s actually my third.
CT: You returned from that and rode Coppi e Bartali but didn’t finish – what happened there?
PD: I just woke up sick one morning. There was quite a lot of it going around at the beginning of the season. A lot of riders were having gastro problems. I had it that day and decided not to start. Actually, there was no point in starting. I couldn’t even get out of bed, really.
That set me back a little bit but the form has come on a lot since then.
CT: Obviously Trentino was then a big boost, showing you were on track….
PD: Yeah, I’d felt okay in training but then you never really know until you get to a race, to see where you are at. So it was good, I could see that I was going in the right direction.
CT: On Friday the Giro starts in Ireland for the first time ever. What are you thoughts on that?
PD: It is going to be massive. Obviously it is a massive sporting occasion, but I think for the country as well it is going to be huge to showcase itself.
It is going to be shown in 180 different countries, millions of people are going to be watching Ireland. So it is obviously a great chance for the country and also to understand the sport a little bit better. I hope that the people who have never seen a bike race before come out and watch, because obviously it is one of those rare sports that is free. You don’t have to pay to come out and watch it and see the spectacle of the Giro.
Obviously everybody knows what the Tour de France is, but the Tour of Italy is the second biggest bike race in the world, so hopefully people will come and get a sample for it.
CT: Does the fact that you are going to be in front of Irish fans give you extra motivation?
PD: Yeah, definitely. I have been pro now ten years and I have only raced in Ireland a few times…I think I did the Tour of Ireland back in 2009 and I did the national championships a few times. So it is not something I get to do often. So that makes it even more special.
Then having all my friends and family coming to watch…it doesn’t come around too often. So it is going to be really special.
CT: The team was originally going to be led by Richie Porte but he won’t take part. What is the new setup for the race and where do you fit into that?
PD: It is going to be the first time ever I think that Sky come into a Grand Tour without a designated GC leader, as such, with a team focussed and based around him. So at the moment it is looking like the team are going to be going for stage wins and taking opportunities. We have riders like Ben Swift and Eddy Boasson Hagen who can be very competitive on the tougher sprint days. Myself, I will be aiming for stages in the second half of the race, some of the mountain stages.
All the guys are the same, they are getting the chance to have a little bit of freedom in a Grand Tour. That doesn’t happen very often in this team. I think you will see a very active and aggressive team going for stages.
CT: Starting the race, is your form good enough to chase stages, or is it the case that the race will bring on your form and give you extra sharpness?
PD: Well, at the start of the race I need to be realistic. I am feeling good but I am still a couple of weeks behind where I would ideally like to be. So it is maybe not a bad thing looking at the last week of the race, seeing how tough it is…the third week is going to be the toughest. So coming in a little bit fresh and a little bit under-raced might work to my advantage in that situation.
I will definitely have my eye on a couple of stages in the second half of the race and use the first half to just ride into it and help the other guys too. Obviously for Ben and Eddy, there will be a few stages there that will suit them. So I will try to help them out as best as I can as well.
CT: How has the team been? How is it different from other squads you have been on in the past?
PD: I think the main difference is that the concentrate on the finer details. Everybody right down to the staff, the mechanics and the soigneurs all seem to work.. I know the staff works hard on every team but on this team everybody seems to work that bit harder.
For example, the massages…I have been on teams where you get a half an hour massage, or 45 minutes…on this team it is an hour. I also have a designated coach who I am in contact with daily as regards my training programme… It is kind of hard to pinpoint one thing in particular but I think this team just in general, it is all the fine details that they concentrate on.
CT: If you look beyond the Giro, what do you see the season being like and the goals for you?
PD: At the moment I am just fully focussed on the Giro. I haven’t even thought past that yet. I just want to do my best now for the next three weeks and then focus on the next race after that is done.
CT: Obviously the race starts with the team time trial and the team has done very well in those in the past. Is potentially taking the pink jersey an objective?
PD: Yeah, that would be the dream scenario. That would be the fairytale outcome. But it is going to be tough to beat some of the others…I know Omega Pharma and GreenEdge have brought teams here specifically to go for the team time trial with. They are going to be difficult to beat.
But as you said, the team has always performed strongly in the past in this discipline. So we will give it a lash anyway, we’ll see.