How does a champion cyclist spend their off-season? We caught up with Commonwealth champion and Cycleplan ambassador Lizzie Deignan to find out!
Do you ever look back and review your season after it’s finished, or is it counter-productive?
I definitely look backwards to go forwards. I’ve recently been looking at my performance from the World Championships at the point where I was dropped from the winning move. I was looking at my power over that minute, and my power was far under what I’m usually capable of doing after having my appendix out.
I can then look back at my training leading up to Plouay – where I was successful just before the appendicitis – which worked, so I can replicate that training next season. It’s definitely important to reflect on your performance – there’s no way you can improve if you’re not self-critical.
How long after the end of the season do you usually start your winter training?
It really depends on the season I’ve had, and where I am mentally. This season I had a really nice rest – I had five weeks off which is quite a long time. You definitely do de-train during the rest period, but I just needed it in order to get excited about riding my bike again.
Earlier in my career, I didn’t take as long off but I think that’s maybe the benefit of getting older – I’m able to retain more of my aerobic fitness than I used to. I’m not racing on the road until February, so I’ve got plenty of time to build my form back up.
Do you think it’s essential for cyclists, whether amateur or pro, to give themselves a break at the end of the year?
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t say amateur cyclists need a big break – which is probably not what everyone wants to hear!
It just takes so much time to build up fitness, especially when cycling isn’t your full-time job. If you put all that work into your training, and then lose your progress, it’s so much harder to regain it when you have other responsibilities as well.
What does your winter training usually entail?
In November and December, it’s literally just hours and hours on the bike, at the moment I’m doing 4 hours a day. I do the majority of it on the road rather than indoors – I think I’d lose my mind if all I was using was the Wattbike!
Are you more careful when cycling in winter? Are there any precautions you recommend for ice/snow/rain?
When I am in the UK, the roads are very wet and icy which is especially dangerous on corners. I tend to take a little bit of air out of my tyres, and I wear bright clothing and attach bright lights to the bike.
I always make sure to have extra food and clothing with me, if you’re stuck out in the Yorkshire Dales and suddenly the weather turns it can get quite dangerous very quickly. It’s not an ideal situation to be in if you’re starving hungry and 2 hours away from home.
Are there any winter exercises or training tips you want to share with amateur cyclists?
It’s definitely important to put in lots of endurance work. It feels like the worst time of the year to be doing it because it’s often cold and dark, but unfortunately, it is the time of year that the miles need to go in. I also do a lot of strength work in the gym, rather than intense anaerobic intervals on my bike.
There are three stages of fitness training for a cyclist. First you need to put in your base miles, then your short interval training, then the third phase is training to race. I work back from my goal race because the training always has to be in that order – you can’t go into interval training without having built up your base miles first.
Are there any essential accessories you would recommend for winter cycling?
My favourite piece of kit in the winter is my gilet, just because you can chuck it in your back pocket, and it makes a big difference if the weather suddenly changes.
Should your winter training schedule be different if recovering from injury?
I had my appendix out, so I had to be on total bed rest for 10 days, meaning I couldn’t just jump into the training that I had been doing before the operation. No matter how demoralising it might feel, it’s important to make sure you’ve got your base miles back in before jumping into the more intense training.
What was your training like, if any, when working to recover from appendicitis in time for the Worlds?
I’d lost about 2 kilos of muscle in those 10 days which was hard to take because it took me about 6 months to build it up, so it was really frustrating. But unfortunately, that’s what happens when you do absolutely nothing for 10 days, which is not what usually happens when you have another injury.
You can hold on to muscle a little more easily if you’re moving around even just a little bit – which I wasn’t allowed to do. If you’re able to, try and maintain your fitness by swimming or something to avoid losing too much muscle.
Is there anything you would do differently if you had the chance?
No. The thing that negatively affected my season was mostly getting ill, which I couldn’t really control!
What would be your advice for cyclists recovering from injury at home?
It’s always best to err on the side of caution. If you’re out on a ride and feel a slight niggle in your knee, don’t just ignore it – make sure you take it easy for a couple of days, rather than giving yourself a full-blown injury with months of frustration.
Do you enjoy Christmas? Favourite Christmas song?
I do enjoy Christmas, but my dad’s always been a bit of a Scrooge and I’m starting to understand why! When I’m not an athlete and I’m living back in the UK I’ll definitely love it. As for Christmas songs, I love hymns such as ‘Away in a Manger’ or guilty pleasures like East 17’s ‘Stay Another Day’!
What would be your ideal Christmas gift?
A private jet – it would make my life so much easier!
Do pro cyclists have to skip the traditional Xmas dinner, or can they enjoy it?
I think it’s really important to indulge once in a while. Every single day I’m considering what I’m putting into my body. Christmas Day is the one day of the year where, in order to have a balanced life, I can relax and not think about nutrition or training. So, yes. I fully enjoy the traditional Christmas dinner!
We presume that Boels Dolmans don’t have huge restrictions on what you can’t eat?
Yeah, they definitely trust us to be professional athletes about our nutrition – the same goes for training. We turn up and we’re expected to perform – if we’re not performing then we don’t get another contract!
We’re guessing from your previous answer that you don’t go for a quick ride on Christmas Day?
Sometimes I’ve been for a ride on Christmas day, and it’s nice because the roads are really quiet.
But this year, because Philip’s Irish and I’m English, we have to split our time between the two places – there’s a lot of flying around to visit families. I won’t be flying back to the UK with a bike – the cycling will be done in Ireland, where we will have bikes, during the New Year period rather than in Otley at Christmas.
Merry Christmas Lizzie!