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Chloé Dygert rediscovering her limits at Vuelta Femenina after injury blighted 24 months

The American's been through the ringer during the last two years, but she's back at the forefront in her comeback race.

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Chloé Dygert is rediscovering her limits as she throws herself into the deep end at the Vuelta Femenina after the best part of two years away from elite women’s road racing.

Dygert’s last two seasons have been a story of setback upon setback that have seen her race just twice on the road — with one of those a TT — since she signed for Canyon-SRAM at the start of 2021. Her track program, preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, and the coronavirus pandemic had already limited her racing schedule in the years prior.

With just one proper road race at Omloop Het Niewsblad under her belt since the world championships in 2019 and a litany of health setbacks, it was hard to predict how she would go at the Vuelta Femenina.

“To be honest, I don’t think myself or anyone else really knows what to expect from me in sprinting or other aspects. I’m just trying not to limit myself. Giving me the opportunities to try and learn is only making me a stronger and smarter rider,” Dygert said this week.

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Dygert certainly hasn’t limited herself and she has well and truly got stuck in over the first three stages of the Spanish race.

The 26-year-old undoubtedly played a big part in getting Canyon-SRAM within a second of the victory in the opening team time trial Monday. Since then, she has looked determined to wrestle the red jersey from Jumbo-Visma.

Though her attempts have so far been fruitless, she remains second overall in the general classification as she has survived some particularly challenging race situations — especially when echelons blew up the third stage. Dygert still wants more, though.

“I’m disappointed again not to have done better, but it’s nice to know that I can sprint if I need to,” Dygert said after stage 2. “When it came to the sprint, we were trying to keep the pace fast, and the speed was good for me. It was just a learning curve on my end. I’ve never sprinted before, there’s a lot to improve on, and I’m happy to have the guidance from the team to help me get there.”

Finding more than just power

Chloe Dygert sprinting against Marianne Vos in stage 4
Chloe Dygert sprinting against Marianne Vos in stage 4 (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Dygert’s journey over the past two seasons has been a rollercoaster ride, to say the least. A horrific crash in the time trial at the 2020 world championships was just the start of her troubles.

The recovery from the deep laceration to her leg meant she couldn’t race with Canyon-SRAM — where she signed a contract over the winter — at all during 2021 and her participation in the Olympic Games was in doubt. She did ride the Olympics but hitting the road proved a stretch too far and she had to wait for February 2022 to contest Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

At the time, she was still suffering a lot of pain in her leg, but she and the team were hopeful that she would be able to ride through it and complete the spring campaign. That hope didn’t last long when she contracted the Epstein Barr Virus and her whole spring was over.

Another surgery on her leg at the end of the summer put paid to any hope that she might be able to race again in 2022. That wasn’t the last hurdle Dygert had to get over before the year was out and she ended up in surgery again in November to treat a heart problem.

In short, it’s nothing short of incredible that Dygert is racing at the front of a WorldTour peloton after the physical challenges she’s had to overcome in the last 48 months. But at the Vuelta Femenina, she looks like a completely different rider to the one she was at Omloop early last year.

Dygert isn’t just trying to finish the race, but she’s been actively driving the action and forcing those around her to respond. However, the last few days have also shown up some limitations in her skillset.

While Dygert is no doubt powerful, she still has a lot to learn when it comes to racecraft on the road. Most of her racing experience has come on the track or in time trials, where efforts are much more measured and controlled.

The Vuelta Femenina is an opportunity to, as she says, make herself a “smarter rider” and figure out where best to apply her huge amounts of power. It is her first-ever WorldTour race and she’s up against far stronger opposition than she’s met on the road previously.

At races like the 2019 Colorado Classic, where she won all four stages and the GC, her power was enough to just ride away from everyone. When you’ve got the likes of Annemiek van Vleuten, Demi Vollering, and Marianne Vos in the bunch, it’s far harder to drop them.

Once Dygert develops her overall racecraft, she’s going to be a formidable force on the road.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.