In order to break away from the Colombiansâ grip on the UCI America Tour last year, Rory Sutherland found a watertight solution. The Unitedhealthcare Pro Cycling Team rider collected points at each North American race while his opponents made their mark on the south of the continent. Behind in the individual rankings until August, he fought his way through the last events to take the individual victory. This year, he has passed on this sure-fire tactic, which means overlooking no race, to his team mate Philip Deignan.
With 89 points, the Irish rider is still a good way off the leader, Colombiaâs Oscar Sanchez (180 points). But he is on the rise, moving from 16th to 7th place at the end of June.
This progression is not just about the UCI America Tour. It tells the story of a rider who was no longer really considered in the running, and who has relentlessly, race by race, rebuilt a place for himself.
Thirty-year-old Deignan looked to be one of his generationâs best climbers. His professional career with AG2R-la Mondiale, CervÃ©lo and RadioShack was full of highs and lows, punctuated by recurring health problems. When free of such problems, he was able to give a true demonstration of his talent at the 2009 Vuelta a Espana: he won a stage and finished ninth in the overall classification.
Today, the Irish athlete appears to have gained a physical condition that is consistent and on a par with that of four years ago. And he has the high spirits and confidence that go with it. This is reflected in his victory at the Tour of the Gila at the beginning of May, his second place in Tour de Beauce and his ninth place at the Tour of California, among the UCI WorldTour heavyweights.
âI am a lot better now, without having revolutionised my life!â he explains. âI finished my season in August last year, had two months off the bike and started 2013 from zero. I concentrated on all the small things which make the difference: sleeping well, eating well, training well. That's all very simple. I also work again with Tommy Evans, my coach from 2009."
His team, Unitedhealthcare never lost their faith in him. âI have no individual results, thatâs all team work,â he says. Wiith the UCI Professional Continental team based in the United States, he alternates between events in the UCI America Tour and UCI Europe Tour. He switches between Dublin and Boulder, in Colorado, where he acclimatised to altitude before fronting up to the high plateaus of the Tour of the Gila.
"The team is very international,â he smiles. "Within the staff and the riders, there's a mix of Americans and Europeans. I feel well here. Perhaps the main difference from the teams I have been before is that we don't have a sandwich after the race but a burrito!"
This summer, Deignan will refuel with Mexican food at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, the USA Pro Challenge (Tour du Colorado), and the new Tour dâAlberta, in Canada. The first two events suit his taste for mountains, and at the third, which will be flatter, he is ready to help his team mates.
These events should help him climb further up the rankings, in particular the USA Pro Challenge, category Hors Classe, which is one of the leading races on the calendar. That is where Sutherland put the finishing touches to his victory last year.
Deignan knows he has a good chance but, happy enough to have found his pedalling power again, plays down any talk of taking the overall lead. "Final victory in the UCI America Tour has always been in the back of my mind but not as a top priority,â he concedes. âI race to win the races and if points come after, it's a bonus."
The other bonus for the 2013 season would be selection for the UCI Road World Championships in Tuscany. Deignan would form a trident with his friends Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Nicolas Roche (SaxoBank-Tinkoff), just as Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche used to count on the perspicacity of the too often forgotten Martin Earley. Deignan is the third Irish in the group. This life in the shadows, discreet and humble suits him. Today, the UCI America Tour offers him just enough of the spotlight to give a new boost to his career.