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Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Monday, 4 August 2008 18:10 UK

Beijing biker

By John Haughey

Philip Deignan
Philip Deignan competed well in last year's Tour of Spain

Philip Deignan's participation in next Saturday's Olympic Road Race deserves to be regarded as a triumph in itself given the setbacks that he has had to overcome.

The prospect of racing on the Great Wall of China probably wasn't uppermost in the Letterkenny cyclist's thoughts as he battled against glandular fever two years ago.

"It knocked me out for six months," recalls the 24-year-old.

Things got little better in the early part of last year when he suffered from knee tendonitis.

"Over the last four or five years, I've also broken my collarbone and my wrist but the knee injury was fairly bad last year.

"I've had a lot of problems holding me back. And if you are missing that five per cent or even more, you are just not going to last in the top races.

"You get to halfway and then you have to climb off."

Thankfully, Deignan's luck began to turn in the second half of 2007 and an encouraging performance in the Tour of Spain helped propel him into serious contention for an Olympic spot in Beijing.

Deignan claimed three top-20 finishes in stages in the Vuelta for his French-based Ag2r-La Mondiale team and gave further credence to his belief that he is capable of holding his own in a Tour de France.

I headed to Marseille when I was 20 and it was a bit of a culture shock at first
Philip Deignan

"I definitely want to do a Tour de France. I was fairly close to it this year so hopefully it will happen next year."

But competing in Beijing will be more than a degree of compensation for missing out on the Champs Elysee.

"The Olympics is the pinnacle of any sports person's career.

"I've worked really hard over the last five or six years and all the work has paid off now that I'm going to the Olympics.

"I was absolutely ecstatic when our National Team Director Frankie Campbell contacted me to tell me that I'd been selected.

"At the time, I was halfway through the 10-day Tour of Switzerland and the news certainly spurred me on for the second half of the race."

Deignan took the decision to base himself in France four years ago after taking up an offer to compete for the Marseille-based VC La Pomme amateur team.

Within a year, he had signed professional forms for the Ag2r-La Mondiale team and he has been battling to establish himself ever since.

"I had no choice in the matter but to go. If you want to go pro, you need to go to mainland Europe where cycling is almost on a par with football.

"I headed to Marseille when I was 20 and it was a bit of a culture shock at first with the language barrier.

Philip Deignan
Training rides of 120 miles plus are common for Deignan

"A lot of sacrifices are made when you move away from your family and it was tough at first but you have to adapt to it."

Deignan acknowledges that there have been moments and even periods when he wondered whether all the upheaval was worth it.

"But you do have those four or five days a year when you are feeling so strong and you win a couple of races. That makes it all worthwhile and going to the Olympics as well will only add to that feeling."

Even when he is not competing in major races, a normal training week for Deignan consists of a minimum of 300 miles on a bike which can extend to around the 500 mark.

"You can do training rides of up to 120 miles.

"It has become pretty scientfic and your weight is down to the last gram so you have to watch what you eat.

"There are no McDonalds or takeaways and once you have finished training, you need to rest and recover as much as possible so you try and get to bed fairly early.

"As regards socialising, I wouldn't go out more than 10 or maybe 15 times a year and when I do, it's a fairly cheap night out as regards alcohol."

Of course, alcohol is not known as the drug of choice on the cycling circuit.

Despite the recent positive drugs test on this year's Tour de France, Deignan does believe that progress is being made in the sport's fight against doping.

There won't be much sightseeing although I hope to get a view of the Great Wall of China when I'm racing around it
Philip Deignan

"Back 10 years ago, the problem was pretty rife.

"But in the last five years, there definitely has has been a big clampdown with the testing.

"You can see that with a lot of the top guys getting caught and the speeds are starting to slow down a little bit.

"(Of course) There are always guys out there who are going to want to cheat and to get the little bit extra and they are willing to take the risk."

However, Deignan believes that the most rigorous testing regime is boosting his chances of making an impact in the sport that he loves.

"I'm able to compete at a level close to the top (because of the testing). You just can't compete with guys who are using performance-enhancing drugs, given that it is such an endurance event."

As regards his Beijing prospects, Deignan jokes that "you can always dream" but realistically, he will be very content with a top-30 finish.

The Donegal man will be the first member of the Irish team to leave the Olympic village as he returns to France on Sunday.

"I've got to head back quickly because I'm doing a race in France. There won't be much sightseeing although I hope to get a view of the Great Wall of China when I'm racing around it!"

see also
Gold medal pursuit
30 Jul 08 |  Cycling
Irish Olympic team is announced
10 Jul 08 |  Olympics
Team GB for Beijing
29 Nov 07 |  Team GB
Velodrome guide
17 Mar 06 |  Cycling
Cycling on the BBC
02 Oct 07 |  Cycling
Liam Killeen's mountain bike guide
02 Mar 06 |  Get Involved
Cycling in the UK
03 Oct 05 |  Get Involved

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