This article is part of Cycling Weekly's 'the ride that changed me' series. Our writers hear from a range of professional and ex-professional cyclists about that one day on the bike that changed the trajectory of their career for good.
Coming into the summer of 2012, Lizzie Deignan was a rising star and on a rapid upward trajectory within her sport. The then 23-year-old had already won the first edition of the women’s Gent-Wevelgem and was beginning to be talked up as a future one-day specialist of the highest level.
It would be easy to assume that a young rider in that position would be full of self-confidence; however, Deignan tells Cycling Weekly that coming into the Olympic Games, she in fact questioned her right to be there. That would swiftly change in the rainy streets of London as she became the first British athlete to land a medal at the home Olympics, taking silver in the women’s road race.
“It changed me because it meant that I no longer had the imposter syndrome of trying to be a professional athlete trying to attain a dream,” Deignan says as she recalls her memories of that important day.
“I was amongst the best, I was an Olympic medallist and I think that sets you apart from other people and therefore gives you a huge sense of confidence that you can achieve something on the hardest of days.”
The year before London 2012, Deignan - along with her coaches - had made the decision that her raw talent was best suited to the road. Pushing the likes of the Netherland’s Marianne Vos was proof that the decision was justified, and showed Deignan’s growing ability and talent.
“I think the silver medal in the road race was a massive kind of justification, I suppose,” she explains. “What's the word I'm looking for? It meant I made the right decision, basically. And it also meant that the potential that I thought I had on the road was real. I had the potential to be there on the hardest day, on the most important day at a home Olympics, competing with the best in the world and the silver medal felt like gold to me.
“It was just a massive turning point in my career because it made me more self confident and more ambitious.”
In the years that followed, Deignan would go on to triumph in the mud of Flanders and on the cobblestones of Roubaix in cycling’s biggest and most important one-day Classics in France and Belgium.
But it was in the streets of London that she began to further define herself as a one-day racer and built the foundations for the success that would follow.
The summer rain thundered down upon Deignan, Vos and Russia’s Olga Zabelinskaya as the trio pushed on in a three-up breakaway and prepared themselves to contest for the medals.
“Obviously it was a home Olympics and the pressure was on and the rain was coming down,” Deignan remembers. “It was epic weather conditions which suited me down to a tee and also suited the breakaway.
"I think we stayed away, particularly because of the weather, you know, racing through a city on wet roads means that it's much easier to go through corners faster in a breakaway than a chasing bunch.
“The crowds just roared us on. It was like an eternal tunnel of noise,” she adds. “It was just the most spectacular experience I've ever had in bike racing. Yeah, in front of the home crowd but specifically in Olympic games where you are in a breakaway of three and you know that you're racing towards a medal.”
Lizzie is an ambassador for Cycleplan, the cycling insurance specialist.
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