Deignan claims grand tour stage


CYCLING TOUR OF SPAIN:SEVENTEEN YEARS. That’s how long it has been since an Irishman won a stage of a three-week tour, but yesterday Philip Deignan brought that long wait to and end with a brilliant ride into this medieval walled city.

Showing a calm head despite nervousness, and strong legs despite 18 days of racing, the 26-year-old Letterkenny rider easily outsprinted the Czech Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) at the end of a tough stage of the Vuelta a España.

Kreuziger is no slouch, having won the 2008 Tour of Switzerland and finished ninth in this year’s Tour de France, but Deignan’s hunger, focus and form saw him put three seconds into his rival inside the uphill final 200 metres.

It is his biggest career win, and the best Irish pro result since Stephen Roche’s Tour de France stage win at La Bourboule in the 1992 Tour de France.

It also moved him to a superb ninth in the general classification, just seven minutes 49 seconds behind race leader Alejandro Valverde.

“I was really nervous,” the Cervélo Test Team competitor confessed afterwards.

“I don’t go into those situations too often. It was really slippery heading to the finish – a couple of times on the roundabouts my wheels were sliding about a little bit and I had to back off.

“I was sure he was going to attack me on the cobblestone part heading into Avila. He never did, so I guess he must not have been able to.

“Then I just kept watching him until near the finish, when I started the sprint. I thought he was stronger than me, I thought he would come by, but he didn’t have the legs.”

Deignan started the day 18th overall and, relishing cold and wet conditions more typical of Donegal than Spain, he went clear in a 16-man move approximately 40 kilometres after the start.

Eking out a lead on the first category Puerto de Mijares climb, their advantage was relatively small for quite some time but it then started to grow.

Several riders tried to go ahead but Deignan policed these moves, getting back up to them each time. He showed his strong form in netting second at the top of the category two El Herradón climb, and then taking the prime at the summit of the final categorised ascent of the day, the Alto de Boquerón.

On the descent he and Kreuziger moved clear and, despite his rival forcing him to do a little more of the work, he had enough left in the tank to blitz his more experienced rival and land a brilliant victory.

“At the team meeting this morning the directeur sportif said that I should try to go in a move that went on the first category climb, as I was probably far enough back in the general classification that the other favourites might not automatically close the break down.

“The goal was to try to get into a group if it was possible, and it worked out perfectly.”

Deignan had a very strong amateur career with VC La Pomme in France, and won the Tour du Doubs in his first year as a professional. However, since then he’s not been able to have a consistent run at racing, suffocating his natural talent.

This year, despite five crashes in the Giro d’Italia, he’s finally got back on track.

“My first season in 2005 was pretty good, I won a race. Since then I have had problems with knee injuries and glandular fever and things like that,” he explained.

“I actually wasn’t sure if it was possible any more, but now, with this win, it is a very important day for my self-confidence and belief.”

Understandably, given the long wait for stage success in a Grand Tour, Irish cycling was in jubilant celebration yesterday evening.

However, the portents were good this year; 23-year-old Dan Martin (Garmin Slipstream) has been showing great promise in his second season as a pro, while Nicolas Roche (Ag2r La Mondiale) had an excellent Tour de France, netting second, fourth, eighth and eighth (again) on stages and finishing 23rd overall. He was also fifth in the points classification.

Winning, though, will move both Deignan and the other riders on to a new level of motivation. It will also provide a huge boost to the young riders coming through the ranks.

“Obviously it is a big day, both for me and for Irish cycling,” he said.

“We had myself and Dan at the start of the Vuelta here, and Nico has had a really good season. It has been a very good year, and today has just capped it off.”

Deignan will start today’s final mountain stage safely tucked into top 10. He’s two minutes 57 seconds ahead of nearest rival Juan José Cobo (Fuji Servetto), but will need to ride strongly over three category one climbs and on the descent down into La Granja.

If he has the legs, he’ll aim to hold that placing going into tomorrow’s penultimate stage time trial.

If today’s effort took some vital zip out of his body – which is understandable – he’s nevertheless still in line for a high overall finish.

And, more importantly, he’s got his career, and Irish cycling, fully back on track and firing on all cylinders. It may have taken 17 years, but the wait is over.

Irish stage winners

FIVE IRISH riders have now taken stages in Grand Tours

SHAY ELLIOTT:1960 Giro d’Italia, 1962 Vuelta a España, 1963 Tour de France

SEAN KELLY:Five in Tour de France (1978, 1980 (2), 81, 82), 16 Vuelta a España (79 (2), 80 (5), 85 (3), 86 (2), 87 (2), 88 (2).

MARTIN EARLEY:1986 Giro d’Italia, 1989 Tour de France.

STEPHEN ROCHE:Tour de France, 1992.

PHILIP DEIGNAN:2009 Vuelta a Espana.

Talent always was there in Avila

PHILIP DEIGNAN showed his promise as an amateur when he achieved results such as victory in the Ronde d’Isard, and turned pro with Ag2r Prévoyance in 2005. He won the Tour du Doubs and placed fifth in the European Under-23 championships and ninth in the Under-23 world championships.

However, injuries and illness stuttered his progression for three seasons, with strong results being followed by frustrating periods.

Despite that, he did have some good performances, including second on a stage of the 2006 Tour de l’Avenir, 10th, 12th and 16th on stages of the 2007 Vuelta, and eighth on a stage and 25th overall in last year’s Tour of Germany.

Deignan had a chance for a fresh start this season when he joined the Cervélo Test Team of 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre. He crashed five times in the Giro d’Italia but still finished 56th overall, as well as placing fifth on a stage and seventh in the general classification at the Vuelta a Castilla y León.

Fourth on a stage and 12th overall in the recent Tour of Ireland showed he was on track for a strong Vuelta, but not even he imagined it would go this well.

If he can continue to progress, a very promising career awaits.

(165km Talavera de la Reina to Avila)

1. P Deignan(Ire) Cervelo 4 hrs 19 mins 14 secs, 2. R Kreuziger (Czech Rep) Liquigas) +3 secs, 3. J Fuglsang (Den) Saxo Bank +16, 4. M Vazquez (Spn) Contentpolis +39, 5. I Anton (Spn) Euskaltel +41, 6. M Cherel (Fra) Francaise des Jeux +42, 7. R Taaramae (Est) Cofidis same time 8. R Di Gregorio (Fra) Francaise des Jeux, 9. J Hernandez (Spn) Astana, 10. J Del Nero (Spn) Fuji, 11. T Valjavec (Slo) AG2R +57, 12. D Herrero (Spn) Xacobeo +1:20, 13. P Gilbert (Bel) Silence-Lotto +3:36, 14. B Fernandez (Spn) Cofidis +4:57, 15. D Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis.

General Classification:1. A Valverde (Spn) Caisse dEpargne 78 hrs 56 mins 42 secs, 2. R Gesink (Neth) Rabobank +32 secs, 3. S Sanchez (Spn) Euskaltel +1:10, 4. I Basso (Ita) Liquigas +1:29, 5. C Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto +1:51, 6. E Mosquera (Spn) Xacobeo +1:55, 7. J Rodriguez (Spn) Caisse dEpargne +5:54, 8. P Tiralongo (Ita) Lampre +6:35, 9. P Deignan(Ire) Cervelo +7:49, 10. J J Cobo (Spn) Fuji +10:46, 11. D Navarro (Spn) Astana +11:51, 12. J Hoogerland (Neth) Vacansoleil +12:19, 13. D Moreno (Spn) Caisse dEpargne +12:50, 14. H Zubeldia (Spn) Astana +13:35, 15. M Vazquez (Spn) Contentpolis +14:01.

Mountains:1. D Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis 186 points 2. D De la Fuente (Spn) Fuji 89, 3. P Weening (Neth) Rabobank 60, 4. J Ramirez (Spn) Andalucia 59, 5. R Gesink (Neth) Rabobank) 58.