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After two injury and illness-interrupted years, Chloé Dygert returned to road racing with a vengeance this season.
The American hit the ground running by helping her Canyon-SRAM team to second place in the opening team time trial at the Vuelta Femenina, before going close in the two subsequent sprints.
After only dropping out of the top 10 on three of her 12 race days so far, she racked up her first WorldTour victory with a win on stage 2 of the RideLondon Classique. It also happened to be Canyon-SRAM’s first WorldTour win since 2019.
It’s just the beginning for Dygert, who vows to push the limits and see what she is capable of.
“There’s not one thing that I would consider myself good at,” Dygert told Velo in a recent interview. “Even if I won the stage at RideLondon, what could I have done better? I’m always looking to better myself, even when things are perfect. I never want to stop. That’s how I’m going to get better.
“That’s how everybody gets better. I’m never satisfied and that’s also what gets me into trouble. Hence, my leg injury, and why I keep getting setbacks and stuff. I just push the limits. I don’t think I’m winning by enough for, you know, whatever my excuse is in my head, I just have to push the limits. But that’s just who I am. That’s how I race and that’s how I ride.”
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After a busy start to the season, Dygert immediately returned to her home in Colorado Springs following the RideLondon Classique as she begins her build toward the national championships later this month.
Dygert is in her third season of a four-year contract with Canyon-SRAM that is due to run out next year. Until May, she had only ridden once with the team at the 2022 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and her lengthy periods of recovery from her leg injury, Epstein Barr, and a heart issue that flared up over the winter meant that she had very little time off the bike with her team as well.
Her block of 12 days of racing over the last few weeks is the longest continuous stint on the road that she’s had since the summer of 2019. Despite a few bumps in the road since she returned, Dygert is just content to be in the midst of competition again.
“I’m just so happy to be healthy and back racing, whatever little bumps here and there come. I had a crash and I’m sick now, but I don’t even care. I’m very grateful. There’s just nothing that I could stop me from being how happy I am to be racing again,” she said.
“I’ve been to two camps in the past two years. And it’s funny, after getting closer with some of the girls, the girls are like, ‘oh, you were so shy and off to the side, doing your own thing.’ I think I just turn into such a different person when I race. My switches flip, and I’m ready to go. It’s such a team effort and I rely on them just as much as they rely on me. I don’t know how to explain it, but I think it’s just kind of natural that we all just get that trust and faith in each other because we are teammates and we all have such great relationships.”
A journey of discovery
While Dygert has scored some big results on the road, most of her success so far in her career has come on the track, particularly in Team USA’s team pursuit squad.
The 26-year-old plans to continue racing on the track, but she is enjoying the new challenge of racing in top-tier road races and honing her race craft as well as building her form.
“No days are the same. With an individual effort, or with a team pursuit, it’s such a specific race, it can almost be determined,” she said. “Beforehand, you can say this is going to happen, and this team will probably win. With a road race you can kind of say that, but there are so many different things that can happen in a road race compared to the whole effort of a time trial or a pursuit. I love racing, I love the just competitiveness of it, just everything that comes with it. If I can race every day, that’d be great.”
Dygert may be happy to be back, but it hasn’t entirely been smooth sailing and there have been reminders that the gruesome leg injury she suffered at the 2020 worlds, when a high-speed impact with a guardrail tore open her left leg just above her knee, will be with her for a long time, if not forever.
During the opening stage of the RideLondon Classique, she came down hard on her injured leg and the shock of the impact saw her lay on the ground for some time. She was ultimately able to get up relatively unscathed and bridged back to the main group after almost 20km of chasing.
When Dygert won the following day, cameras captured the muscle spasms in her leg and she struggled to walk for a time after putting in such a big effort.
“I smacked down on my left side my leg and it was quite a shock,” Dygert said. “I crashed earlier in the season at training camp, but I was by myself and it just was one of those freak accidents where I had my hand off my bars drinking and I hit a bump and just flew me shot me into the little rock wall. But that was my fault. This one, I was in a group, I was with riders, so it did kind of shock me mentally really shocking.
“The smack you know really scared me, I was scared for my leg. I was worried I did something again and so I laid on the ground for about five minutes or so finally we got up and made a decision that I was going to continue.
“It was a big day for my leg. Afterward, obviously, you can see the spasming of the muscle and everything. And the next day, and the day after, it was a lot to recover from. It’s normal and the same thing happened on the track after doing standing starts. It’s not like it wasn’t common, it’s not like I didn’t think it was going to happen. It’s just something I will have to deal with the rest of my life, but that’s just how it goes.”
The nationals at the end of June are a big goal for Dygert, but not just for the opportunity to earn the stars and stripes. It is an opportunity to secure a spot on the road team at the world championships in August, where she’s planning to ride it alongside the track, as are several other riders.
Despite getting more into her road racing, Dygert wants to keep riding on the track and she believes that the discipline helps to build her strength for the road, particularly since her 2020 injury.
“I’ve been doing both disciplines for so long that both my personal coach and a track coach know how to work together and complement each discipline,” she said. “Obviously, first and foremost, I have to qualify for worlds, I should have started with that. I’ll qualify hopefully and then we’ll spend time on the track. The track gives me my strength because I don’t go in the gym, the gym is just too hard on my body, so the track is what gives me my strength.
“The track complements me for the road and the time trial so there’s really no negative at all, for me to do both. It’s just the scheduling of how the racing is in between the individual pursuit to the team pursuit, there’s just not much time so if anything, that would be the only complaint but there’s a decent amount of time from the track program to the road events, so I’ll have time to recover.”