Commentary: Chloé Dygert Owen’s rainbow comeback
Look out world, here comes Chloé.
Chloé Dygert Owen, America’s one-woman wrecking ball on two wheels, is headed to the UCI road world championships next week to push big watts and win rainbow stripes. Be forewarned, international women’s cyclists, because Dygert Owen has finally hit her top form after a recent training camp in Idaho.
Before most big races, Dygert Owen spends a few days outside Boise training with her coach, three-time Olympic champion Kristin Armstrong. Apparently this year’s session produced a few memorable sessions, as Dygert Owen pedaled threshold intervals ahead of Armstrong, who rode in her slipstream and barked out orders.
“We were doing long threshold efforts and she sat on my wheel. The last time I finally pulled away and she was like ‘C’mon Chloe! Go!’ and I’m like ‘shut up, Kristin!'” Dygert Owen told me. “I guess the most memorable thing is how fit she still is.”
The weight of this year’s world championships rests on Dygert Owen’s decision to race both the individual time trial and the road race. The last time she committed to the full slate of road events was at the 2015 road worlds, the race that vaulted her into our lives as the next queen of American cycling. She was just 18 when she smashed the individual time trial to earn her first rainbow stripes; two days later she attacked out of the junior women’s field to win the road race.
In the ensuing years Dygert Owen blossomed into the Olympic medal-winning track rider we have come to cheer for on the international stage. She is the multi-time world champion who occasionally indulges in fast food, hates to lose at board games, and pushes herself so hard in training that coaches position a trashcan near her stationary bike. She has come to embody the American spirit on a bicycle—a hyper-competitive big personality designed for victory.
Dygert Owen brings the “just another race” mindset into worlds. Nothing changes, not the preparation, the training, nor the pre-race routine.
“I’ll still have my pump-up music going,” Dygert Owen says. “I can never stop listening to the Rocky theme song, Michael Jackson, or Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody.’ I only listen to them on race day.
“Sure, [worlds] is a big deal but I have to think of it as just another race.”
Why downplay worlds? Well, there’s more weight riding on worlds than Dygert Owen might want to admit. Dygert Owen is still very much in comeback mode from her lost 2018 season, which resulted from a crash and concussion at the 2018 Amgen Tour of California. The crash, concussion, and subsequent series of minor injuries, kept Dygert Owen from attaining her top form for more than a year.
“My mindset for the whole year has changed dramatically because I never really knew if I’d be able to get to that level ever again,” Dygert Owen said. “I won some races but I was never anywhere near where I needed to be.”
The toughest moment came in June the U.S. national road championships, where Dyrgert Owen finished second to TT great Amber Neben. Sure, she was only 36 seconds behind in a half-hour time trial. But the watts Dygert Owen was accustomed to pedaling at her peak simply weren’t there, even after months of hard training. The message was clear: Dygert Owen was strong, but still not her strongest.
“It was really hard to lose, but in the big picture, it gave me the motivation to work really hard—it was like, I need to do more,” Dygert Owen said. “Maybe it’s good for me to learn how to lose, even if I hate it.”
Dygert Owen spent July training on the track, putting in hard power intervals in Colorado Springs. The sessions fueled her preparation for the Pan American Games in Peru, where she planned to race the road time trial. During one training session Dygert Owen says she felt that elusive, world-beating power return.
When she stepped off her bicycle, her cycling computer automatically uploaded the training file to her coach, Armstrong.
“Kristin called me, and she didn’t say, ‘good job.’ She said, ‘Chloé, you’re back,'” Dygert Owen says. “It’s one of those moments that is very special. I’ll never forget that moment.”
Several weeks later Dygert Owen smashed the Pan Am time trial. She was back.
The physical form has returned, yet there are psychological hurdles that Dygert Owen also had to overcome this season. She has been very open about the psychological hurdles she has faced in returning to the women’s pro peloton, where elbows fly and a momentary lapse in concentration can send riders tumbling to the asphalt like dominos.
Throughout her dominant ride at the Colorado Classic, where she won every stage and took home a closet full of awards jerseys, Dygert Owen was often asked about her nerves and her confidence within the bunch. She was making progress, she said, and every day she got more confident.
“I still don’t take my hands off my handlebars,” she told reporters after the final stage in Denver, laughing.
The real test of that confidence will come during the world championships road race. She will bang bars with the worlds best, on those winding and twisting European lanes that can shred a peloton after a few kilometers. She won’t be able to simply ride away from the field, as she did again and again in Colorado. Instead, she will have to battle for every inch of tarmac, and let loose with her power at the right moment.
“I’m really looking forward to that race,” Dygert Owen said. “I’m back to where I need to be and my head is in a good spot.”
Look out world, Chloé is back.