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KUURNE, Belgium (VN) — After being forced to postpone her European debut due to injury last year, Chloé Dygert finally had her first hit out with the Canyon-SRAM team at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
The American time trialist and track star had never raced on the road in Europe outside of a world championship before Omloop. The one-day Belgian race was also her first bunch race since the Olympics in Tokyo last year and it was a stern test for her.
Dygert passed the test with flying colors and finished as Canyon-SRAM’s best-placed rider in 26th place and inside the main group behind the winning breakaway of Annemiek van Vleuten and Demi Vollering.
“I was definitely coming into this race not knowing what to expect. It was a wildcard race for me. I wanted to come in and do what I could for the team and learn where I was at physically and mentally being back in a peloton and with this really being my first time racing in Europe,” Dygert said.
“It’s my first time in over two years doing a road race outside of the Olympics. I was coming into this race trying to get as much experience and working on everything I could to prepare myself and be with the team in these next, bigger WorldTour races.”
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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was not initially on Dygert’s early-season calendar but the event was added in recent weeks to give her some extra racing miles on the legs ahead of some bigger targets later this spring. As well as working on her fitness, and testing her injured leg, the race gave her a chance to get used to being inside a peloton again.
“This race really wasn’t on the schedule, it was just put on it in the last couple of weeks to participate in this race,” she said. “We were looking at the bigger picture of going into the Tour of Flanders and all of these big WorldTour races. For me, it’s about learning to ride with the team and seeing what the team expects from me and also for me personally learning how to be in a peloton again and getting my confidence back, and seeing where I’m at physically.
“For sure, it’s been a long road, even after the Olympics I took five months off the bike and just started training again in December after two surgeries. I’m still coming back with my fitness. It’s not 100 percent. It’s still going to take some time, and I have to trust the process. The season is long and there are some bigger and more important races so I have to keep my eye on those.”
Leg injury not going anywhere soon
Dygert has hardly raced since she suffered a deep laceration to her leg following a crash in the time trial at the 2020 world championships in Imola. She was able to make it to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, where she took bronze in the team pursuit with the United States. but had to postpone her planned debut with Canyon-SRAM last fall.
Since the Olympics, she has been working on her recovery and her leg has been improving but she’s still dealing with the after-effects of the injury.
“I still have my bad days, especially when it’s cold outside,” Dygert explained. “Today, when the coasting and things were slow, the weather definitely impacted my leg. It was definitely hurting at the end of the race. There was a lot more coasting after that last climb. It really cooled down my leg and after the finish, it was very difficult to pedal my bike. It’s definitely getting better every day, but I still struggle with the pain, and I think that’s how it’s going to be for the rest of my career.”
Though she finished the race in pain, Dygert took a lot of confidence from her performance. The time away from mass-start road races followed by the re-entry at Omloop helped her figure out what she needed to do to step up in the coming weeks.
“I’m going to walk away from this race knowing that I’ve got some things that I need to work on,” Dygert said. “It’s also my first time working with these girls. It’s going to be good for us to move forward and start working together as a team and start flowing together as a team and keep moving up from there.
“Lessons I can take from this race, there was a lot of teams and riders and a big group of girls and it was really panic-y I feel like with lots of crashes. For me, the biggest thing I took away from this race was that I need to keep working on my position and trying to be up front and when those bigger riders attack or make moves, I need to be closer to the front to figure out if I need to follow or do what I need to do.”