World champion Anna van der Breggen anticipates the toughest challenge to the defence of her rainbow jersey in six months time will come from home favourite Lizzie Deignan.
The 2019 UCI Road World Championships head to Yorkshire from September 21-29, with former world champion Deignan focusing her comeback from the birth of her first child around her bid to reclaim the global title on the roads she knows so well.
Deignan, nee Armitstead when she won the world title in Richmond, USA, in 2015, took the majority of last year off to have her first child with husband and former Team Sky rider Philip.
She is back in the saddle now, gearing up for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a world championship held in her home county of Yorkshire.
Victory in the elite women’s road race on September 28 would provide the storybook ending to a remarkable comeback from Deignan.
While there are admiring glances from within the women’s peloton about how Deignan has come back from childbirth, there are also plenty who hope to rip up the script.
One of those is Van der Breggen of the Netherlands, who as the reigning world and Olympic champion is rightly viewed as the woman to beat. The two know each other well, having been team-mates at Boels-Dolmans in 2017.
“Lizzie is a really strong rider and I really enjoyed that period when we were team-mates,” said Van der Breggen, 28.
“With the World Championships in Yorkshire, this is a very important season for her. It’s great that she tries again – it shows it’s not impossible, not limiting to have a child and come back at the highest level.
“I really have respect for that and hope she does well in her own country.”
With the World Championships in Yorkshire, this is a very important season for her. It’s great that she tries again – it shows it’s not impossible, not limiting to have a child and come back at the highest level.Anna van der Breggen
The two will be the headline acts in an elite women’s road race that beats a 149.5km-long path from Bradford to Harrogate on the penultimate day of the week-long cycling extravaganza.
The route she triumphed on six months ago featured harder climbs, given it was in the Austrian Alps. But the hallmark of racing in Yorkshire – as the world’s best have discovered since the landmark Tour de France Grand Depart of 2014 – is about punchy climbs that can split the peloton.
“The climbs are shorter and steeper in the worlds than they were in Innsbruck last year, and that kind of racing suits a lot of riders,” said Van der Breggen of the Yorkshire challenge.
“It will be hard to defend the jersey.”
But it is one Van der Breggen will defend with everything she has and with the support of a Dutch national team that always arrives at a world championships as ones to watch.
Reflecting on her win in Innsbruck, Van der Breggan said: “You think about something for such a long time, every training session, and in the moment you stand on the podium, you realise that jersey is yours.
“It felt so special and it still is. Every time I look at my bike, at my kit, I train in the rainbow stripes, I am so proud.
“I am going to enjoy wearing that jersey. I have worked so hard for many years to get it and it is really special you get to ride in it for one year.”