Talkingshop: Philip Deignan Interview

Promoting the Irish Cycling Show (May 19/20) in Dublin, top Irish professional Philip Deignan talks about life as a professional in this indepth interview

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Top professional road cyclist Philip Deignan is with a new team in 2012, his third in three years, but this time the 2009 Vuelta a Espana stage winner is enjoying protected status as one of three team leaders of the United Healthcare Pro Continental squad.

Now based in Dublin where he shares an apartment with Stephen Halpin, the young Dubliner who races in the UK with the Metaltek-Scott team, Philip took some time out to talk to Declan Quigley about his hopes for the season, his thoughts on the controversial Olympic selection process and the forthcoming inaugural Irish Cycling Show at the RDS.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about the move to Dublin. It’s very unusual for a continental cyclist to be based in Dublin. That’s a bit of a first.
PD: Yeah, well actually I was based up in Donegal for a lot of last year and prior to that I was in Girona and prior to that I was in Marseilles but I found that there was a little bit too much… it was almost like you were in a cycling bubble when you were in Girona,. There was fifty or sixty pros living in the town and when I came back from races it was ‘kinda’ difficult to unplug from the whole racing scene. It almost felt like you’d left the race and come back to a training camp so I like getting home and relaxing for a week or two in between races.

Q: So you don’t spend every waking moment thinking about bicycles?
PD: No, I still concentrate 100% on the bike. I’m not any less dedicated because I live at home. I just think you can relax a little bit better. I still train really, really hard here. One of the main reasons to move here was that I’m 20 or 30 minutes from the airport. I’ve got some big long climbs down in Wicklow and the weather’s probably a little bit better down here than it is down in Donegal so it’s kind of a combination of those things.

And logistically it doesn’t really matter whether you’re in Girona or Dublin these days with airports… No, with every professional team now you live where you want as long as you’re close to an international airport.

Q: A new season, a new team, what is it, the third in three years?
PD: Yeah, jeez, I hadn’t thought about it like that before. I mean, I was unlucky with the thing that happened with Cervelo and with Radioshack, the mergers happened twice in two years but, yeah, it’s hard to get settled into a team in one year. You almost need a couple of seasons just to find your feet and get settled in. But this year’s going really well. I’m really happy with the setup of the team.

Q: Tell us about it. Tell us how it came about that you moved to United Healthcare, what the team is like and how it compares to other teams.
PD: Well I first started speaking to them last year during the Tour of Colorado. I got speaking to the team management and some of the team coaches and they had an interesting plan for the future. They’ve been growing steadily every year. They’ve been in the sport now, I think it’s eight years and they’ve grown every year and I think they’ve done it the right way. They’ve built it up gradually and they have some big plans for Europe to expand more into it and it was really interesting for me so I went for it.

And, obviously, great to stay in the game. It must have been a bit tense towards the end of last year?

Q: Yeah, you had the thing with HTC folding and Radioshack stopping so it’s always a little bit tense when it’s so late that you find out about these things but it worked out fine. It must have been particularly disappointing that you weren’t able to make the merger with Radioshack and Leopard because you had a pretty good year with them?
PD: It was an okay year. It was nothing special. It was a pretty solid year. I got a good year’s racing in and I did some good work for the team so I was relatively happy. I was hoping for a little bit more but there were 60 riders looking for 30 places and all the guys from Leopard were already contracted so there was only eight or ten guys made the move over to Leopard from Radioshack so…

Q: So it’s been a bit disruptive and you’ve had a few health problems over the years and you’ve managed to get it back on track. You feel strong?
PD: I feel pretty good now. You kind of have to learn to control… I mean every year you learn more about your body and how you react to big training loads and when you start to feel tired and run down and when you need to back off before you reach the point of getting really sick, coming down with something. I’ve learned to manage that a lot better over the years and the training has been modified quite a bit as well. There’s a lot less quantity and a lot more quality than there used to be.

Q: New season, new ambitions and obviously with this team you’ve got a few more opportunities to race for yourself?
PD: Yeah, that was another thing about the team, that I’d be given a chance to maybe go for some results along with, obviously in the team there’s Rory Sutherland and Marc de Maar so we have three guys who can be up in races during the season, some of the hillier stage races so that was interesting and it’s been an interesting change as well.

Irish Cycling Show Promoter Hugh Bonner with Philip Deignan

Q: So tell us a little bit about your programme and your main ambitions for the year.
PD: I’ve a few one day races now in Belgium over the next ten days and then I go to Italy for the Giro dell’Appennino and Trentino and then I head to America to do Tour of Gila and Tour of California which will be the main goal of the season. That’s the middle of May and then I have a little break and then I do, I think, Tour of Beauce in Canada, the Nationals, Tour of Austria, Tour of Utah, Tour of Colorado, Tour of Britain so it’s a pretty good programme to the end of the year.

Q: There are a lot of stage races in there. Are there any that you think are particularly suited to you?
PD: Eh, well, for me and for the team Tour of California is the number one. For the sponsor it’s huge. They get more publicity out of that one race than they do out of any other race in the year so it makes sense that that has to be the number one goal. I have to be 100% there. And then Tour of Colorado as well. That’ll be a big one.

Q: How tough is it for a Pro Continental team to shove its way into the mix in those races?
PD: I mean, it’s hard. It’s always hard at that level. I mean, the fact that we’re going to be racing all year in Europe, we’ll have that level already. So it’s not going to be a big shock for us. We’ll be ready.

Q: And long term? You see the team growing? Obviously you’ve won a stage of Vuelta a Espana before so are there still Grand Tour ambitions?
PD: For sure, yeah. Just because I’m not doing a Grand Tour this year doesn’t mean I don’t want to do one ever again. But yeah, there’s definitely still a lot of ambition in me. I’m 28 which is relatively young in cycling, like. I’d like to think I’ve quite a few more years left in me and with the team, I think they still want to grow and get bigger so who knows what’s going to happen.

Q: For the last few years you’ve had North American sponsors. Do you think your outlook, lifestyle etc suits a North American team?
PD: It’s always nicer being on an English speaking team. When I was on AG2R it was a French speaking team which I didn’t mind. I mean, I adapted and spoke French and it was fine but it is a bit more natural speaking your own language. But it’s not only the North American teams that are speaking English now. There’s a lot of the teams that their main language is English so it’s changing.

Q: Would you hear more English than French now?
PD: Definitely, For sure.

Q: It’s an Olympic year as well and you’ve been to the Games before. Is it a realistic ambition for the year?
PD: Yeah, for sure. I’m not putting too much pressure on myself at the moment. If the results come, the results come but it’s definitely a goal. For every person the Olympics is always huge so for sure I want to go.

Q: It looks like it’s a little bit tough to get in and it’s certainly complicated, isn’t it! Dan Martin’s currently not qualified…
PD: Yeah, it’s…(laughs) I don’t want to get involved too much with the whole bureaucracy of the points system but I’m sure at the end of the day Cycling Ireland will pick the best three riders and, to be honest I don’t think Dan needs to worry about his place because he’s shown over the last two years that he has to go. And also Nicolas. I mean those two guys should be basically guaranteed to go anyway.

Q: So then it’s two riders for one place?
PD: Eh, yeah…

Q: So how difficult is it to get points? Do you have to make a late bid to get a place in the Rás?!
PD: (Laughs)… I don’t know. Like I said, I have a few stage races coming up and the Tour of California in May so we’ll try and sneak a few points here and there before then.

Q: I guess it would be nice going to the Olympics if you didn’t have three weeks of slogging around France just before it?
PD: Yeah, one of the things about the points system this year is that, just because you’re scoring points and flying in February, March, April and May, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be in great shape for the end of July so, I don’t know, it’s not an ideal system but there’s not a lot else you can do. I don’t waste too much energy thinking about it at the moment, anyway.

Q: Turning to the Tour of Beijing last year. That stage second place finish. It must have been a bittersweet experience after a good strong year. Here was an opportunity to showfor yourself. You just about missed out and then it was a mate that took the win. It must have been a confusion of emotions?
PD: It was strange. The one time in the year that I was up there for the win and Nicolas was there. It was slightly surreal, bizarre situation but it was nice way to end the season to get that result, being close to the win. At the end of the day Nicolas was stronger than me. There was nothing I could have done to beat him. The better guy won so I was happy for him, you know.

Q: Do you still cling on to the emotion of your experience at the Vuelta in ’09. Does it still motivate you?
PD: It feels like a long time ago. I watched a clip of it during the winter and, for sure, it still motivates you. You think ‘well, I’ve done it before I can do it again.’ So, yeah, it’s still at the back of my mind knowing that I’ve done it so it’ll keep me motivated for another few years, I’m sure.

Q: Let’s talk about the Irish Cycling Show. It must be heartwarming for you as one of Ireland’s premier professionals over the last number of years who has made his own contribution to the growth of cycling in Ireland to see an Irish Cycling Show coming to Dublin?
PD: Like you say, the way cycling has grown over the last three or four years. It’s been huge. I think it’s almost like the new golf at the moment. There are so many people buying bikes and taking up cycling. Even in my own family my brother and sister have started cycling which I never thought I would see in a million years.

I don’t know if I’ve contributed to that but I’m sure between Nicolas and Dan and three or four professionals we’ve helped a little bit, I hope and it’s definitely an exciting time for cycling.


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