After the announcement that his Cervelo Test Team would fold at the end of this season, Philip Deignan's career as a professional cyclist looked tenuous at best. Yesterday, though, the Donegal rider announced he will be a member of one of the world's biggest teams in 2011, the American-based Radioshack team of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
Having taken a stage win and ninth overall at the Tour of Spain last year -- the best result by an Irish cyclist in almost two decades -- Deignan's future looked bright and it was hoped he would be able to build on the potential he had always shown since turning professional with Ag2r in 2005.
However, illness and injury seemed to follow the affable Letterkenny rider at every turn. He began the year with a slight knee injury, went to the Canary Islands afterwards, where he overtrained to compensate for time off the bike and ultimately picked up a virus that would stay with him throughout the year, forcing him out of almost every stage race he contested.
To add insult to injury, three days before this year's Vuelta, Deignan was told his Cervelo team would be folding at the end of this season and although he had a contract through 2011, he'd have to start looking for a new team.
"It came as a bit of a shock," said Deignan. "The first inkling I had was when I thought it was a bit strange when they didn't sign anybody during the Tour de France this year. There were only 10 of us signed for next season and Cervelo hadn't signed anybody else.
"Then when Carlos Sastre announced he was leaving at the end of the year, that was a bad sign. As usual, we were the last ones to be told. There was a lot of anger there. It's not just the riders who were out of work. There are around 80 staff with kids and mortgages looking for a job next year."
One year after his stage victory, illness forced Deignan to abandon this year's Vuelta after just 11 days. With no results to speak of for the year, the 26-year-old called a halt to his season and went looking for both a cure for his illness and a new team.
Having exhausted all other avenues, Deignan eventually found out the root of his illness from a rival team doctor, Garmin's Matt Rabin. The British chiropractor is known within the peloton as 'Back Magic' for his ability to cure troublesome injuries and illness with the touch of his hands.
"After speaking to some of the guys at Garmin, they told me to let him have a look," said Deignan. "It's hard to understand how he does it, but he works on the neurological system and he can diagnose problems pretty quickly. He told me I've had a virus for most of the year and that I would feel worse for a couple of weeks but then my body would start fighting it, but with the Vuelta starting a few days later, I hadn't time to get better.
"I knew it was going to be hard comparing my form going into it with where I was last year. The team told me that if I wasn't getting any better after 10 days, it would be better health-wise for me to stop. I knew I wasn't able to achieve anything and finishing 20 minutes down every day, I was just making myself worse, so there was no point in continuing."
Now back in Letterkenny for the off-season, the Beijing Olympian this week secured a one-year deal with ProTour team Radioshack for 2011. "I was worried for a while," he said. "It was hard to focus during the Vuelta with the stress of not knowing where I'd be riding next year, or even if I'd have a job. If it had been last year, I would have had no problems getting a team.
"But people forget pretty soon. After the year I've had it was hard to get a team. I had a couple of offers but I'm delighted to be going to Radioshack. To me, they are the biggest team in the world. We've had a bit of a chat and I've been to the team headquarters in Belgium. They know what races suit me and I will more than likely be riding plenty of stage races.
"I will probably have to get used to riding on the front of the peloton a lot because they have a very strong stage-race team with (Levi) Leipheimer, (Andreas) Kloden and Lance, if he decides to race again next year. It's been a pretty stressful year, but I'm looking forward to getting back on the bike and hopefully coming back stronger next year."