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It is far from an everyday occurrence to sign up for a new cycling team while in your final trimester of pregnancy. However, the fact that Trek saw Lizzie Deignan’s impending motherhood as an opportunity, rather than a risk, spoke volumes to the former world champion about exactly why joining the new women’s cycling team was the right choice for her.
“This is something that I want to be a part of,” Deignan said of the newly announced Trek Women’s team.”Signing me up as a pregnant woman, I think that is quite key. It signals their intention, that they still value me as an investment rather than a risk and I think this is exciting and quite forward thinking from a bike company.”
Signing a pregnant Deignan is something the group is embracing as a positive, as it is another step toward normalising pregnancy as being a part of a woman’s career — even when that career is pro-cycling. That’s important when the stated aim is helping create a more level playing field by setting up a women’s team to operate alongside the men’s squad of Trek-Segafredo.
“In this time, it is evident that we need equity and parity between genders. Especially in sports we need it more than any other situation, because we know that sports can drive human beings to think differently,” said Trek Factory Racing manager Luca Guercilena.
As well as driving the acceptance of motherhood as part of a career, rather than a career ender, one of the key aims is to facilitate a well-resourced team where the riders are actually paid enough to live on. That’s not necessarily a common thing in women’s cycling.
Guercilena added that of course they would also like to see the point where female riders are well enough paid to put money aside for beyond their cycling career, or if they are a big star that they get paid the same the big salaries the men in a similar position can command. Still, the first goal would be to enable them to completely commit to being a rider as their sole employment.
The five year switch
Moving to the new team — which will operate under the Trek Factory Racing umbrella — is a big change for Deignan. She had been with Boels Dolmans for five years, and said the Dutch squad was crucial to her success. When with Boels there were times that she seemed an unstoppable force, scooping up not only the rainbow stripes of the world champion but a long list of wins at some of the most prestigious races on the calendar, including Strade Bianche, the Tour of Flanders and the Women’s Tour.
Helping the 29 year old commit to the move, was seeing that Trek seemed to be offering her an equally professional environment.
“I haven’t seen many other teams operate on the same level, but the way that Trek are looking to approach it looks very similar and it was a very viable alternative,” Deignan told Ella CyclingTips. “And then there was their overall enthusiasm and approach and excitement for a new project. It was catching.”
This is by no means Trek’s first venture in the women’s road racing scene, it currently sponsors British team Trek-Drops. However, this foray will see it join the likes of Movistar, Mitchelton-Scott and Team Sunweb who have closely tied women’s squads.
Nor is it Trek’s first push toward equalling the playing field, with the announcement earlier this month that the cyclocross World Cup round in the US that they host would put the women’s race in the marquee final slot. That comes after they last year became the first World Cup to offer equal prize money for the women.
Trek is in the process of building a strong team around Deignan, from the riders to management.
“It’s important to me that we’re going in ambitious,” said the British rider. “I didn’t want to go to a small team and just have all the pressure on myself, especially post baby. I really enjoy being a team player as well so I want to contribute to a successful team, so the women around me also need to be strong riders.”
We don’t have any official news on who will be joining Deignan, yet, as the rider transfer window doesn’t open till August 1, so teams aren’t able to announce currently racing new signings. However, there is every chance that some Wiggle High5 riders will be looking for a new home given there’s some uncertainty about the team’s future.
Deignan said she really feels that it is the perfect time for another new team to enter women’s cycling arena, just as the time is right for her to embrace the allure of some fresh motivation and a different environment.
“I think that having a baby and the come back to fitness at that level is going to be such a challenge that the idea of changing a team being a challenge seems minuscule in comparison,” said Deignan. “Any kind of fear that I had about changing environment is kind of wiped out by the fact that I’ve got to step up and be brave enough to try new things because a baby is going to bring lots of those.”
Not least of which is the uncertainty surrounding just what her return to racing will look like. Deignan has clear goals, a 2019 home World Championships in Yorkshire and the Tokyo Olympics, but just how quickly she will be able to throw herself back into the peloton in the pursuit of them is, not surprisingly, an unknown.
“Because I’ve never had a baby before,” said Deignan chuckling, “it’s very difficult for me to say well ‘okay well I want to return at this date at this fitness’. I’m very lucky that Trek have been very open and said it is down to you and your baby … they have been very flexible which is great.”
“There’s no pressure for me to return to racing but I think my realistic target and goal would be to be back by June next year.”
(Additional reporting by Caley Fretz)