Lizzie Deignan says MBE makes her feel ‘proud’ as she targets competitive return

Former world champion Lizzie Deignan has been made an MBE for services to cycling as she prepares to return to racing after becoming a mother for the second time.

The 34-year-old has become an inspiration to fellow professionals and amateurs alike after racking up a string of high-profile victories since giving birth to her daughter Orla in 2018, and is now targeting more wins after welcoming a son, Shea, in September.

“It’s a bit surreal,” Deignan told the PA news agency of receiving the honour. “It makes you feel proud. To be recognised for services to cycling, it’s more than just a result. It will have a bit more longevity. When I’m 50 or 60 I’ll still have my MBE but my results will be long gone.”

Since becoming a mother, the 2015 world champion has won both Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix, making her the first woman to have completed the full set of the women’s Monument classics as she added to her 2016 Tour of Flanders victory.

Alongside Dame Laura Kenny and Dame Sarah Storey, Deignan has frequently been cited as playing a key role in normalising pregnancy within cycling and sport more broadly.

Asked if the honour might be recognition for the role model she has become as well as her results, Deignan said: “I hope so. It was never about the intention to inspire, it was about the intention to start a family for us.

“It’s kind of borne out of things that have driven me personally – to my own results, but also to start a family – those are very personal. The inspiration or impactfulness has come as a by-product or as an accident.

“I suppose I’m never shy about giving my opinion and that has perhaps contributed to it being a bit more impactful I hope.”

Deignan’s example has helped shift attitudes towards pregnancy within women’s cycling during a period when the sport has rapidly become more professional, albeit with major strides still needed.

Deignan signed for Trek-Segafredo when six months pregnant in 2018, and the announcement that she was pregnant with Shea and would miss the 2022 season was coupled with news of an extended contract that runs until the end of 2024.

“I would like to think I’ve given other women the confidence to choose motherhood but also for sponsors and teams to acknowledge that it is possible and it can be supported successfully,” Deignan added.

“The reaction to both pregnancies couldn’t have been more different and it suggests to me there has been a huge shift in people’s mindsets.

“When I announced I was pregnant with Orla people were more vocal about the fact I was walking away from my career at the top of the sport and why did I expect to get support or maternity rights?

“But it was just congratulations when I announced my pregnancy with Shea. There was no question Trek would support me. I think they’ve led the way in making it impossible for other teams to treat me the way I was treated the first time. It’s dramatically different.”

Deignan has set herself a target of returning to racing by May, although she is open to that changing. Her children’s birthdays are separated by only one day, and in 2019 she returned at the Amstel Gold Race in April.

“I’m talking about May but who knows?” she said. “I only want to start to race if I can contribute to the result and help the team. The last time I wanted to come back ready to win but I feel the pressure for that is off this time.

“I don’t have anything to prove in that way so I might start racing earlier.”