With the way things are shaping up Donegal will be well represented in London come the Olympics and for a man who wore the green jersey in Beijing four years ago it could just be part of a hectic schedule.
Philip Deignan took part in the 2008 Beijing Olympics Road Race, finishing the gruelling 245km course in 81st place overall and now in his first year with the United Healthcare Pro Continental squad, the Letterkenny native has plenty of dates dotted on his calendar.
Maria McCambridge and Caitriona Jennings have made the standard for the women’s marathon for London, while Chloe Magee will take part in the ladies badminton. Tori Pena, a Californian who competes out of Finn Valley Athletic Club, will compete in the pole vault and Milford’s Brendan Boyce will be in the English capital in the 50km walk.
Daniel Martin, who matched Deignan’s achievement of a stage win at the Vuelta a España last August, is tipped for London, as are Nicolas Roche and Deignan, but a rather complex scoring system means it might be a waiting game.
“I’m not putting too much pressure on myself at the moment,” Deignan said of his Olympic hope. “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.
“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.”
Having spent much of last year working from his home at Magherennan on the Ramelton Road, Deignan is now based in Dublin. It’s perceived to be an unusual place, with so much of the competitive action taking place on mainland Europe, but it suits the 28-year-old.
“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 50 or 60 pros living in the town and when I came back from races it was 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.
“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.”
Deignan is settling into life now with his third team in three years. Having left Cervelo Test Team after it folded in 2010, he spent last season with Radioshack but was delighted to get the chance to wear the colours of United Healthcare.
“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,” he continued. “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.
“Last year 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 but 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.
“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.”
One of the standout positives of the new venture is that the make-up of the United Healthcare team means that Deignan can, as well as working for some high ranked teammates, also concentrate on his own progress.
“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.
“I’ve a few one day races now in Belgium over the next 10 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.”
London in August remains a huge aim and Deignan will clear the decks by not partaking in any of the three Grand Tours - the Vuelta, Giro d’Italia and Tour de France - but there are still plenty of other avenues for points.
“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.
“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.”