On September 24, Chloé Dygert, a 22 year-old American who’d never before raced in Europe, smashed the fastest women in the sport, taking elite time trial gold at the UCI World Road Cycling Championships in Yorkshire, England.
Dygert beat Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten, second and third respectively, by over 90 seconds on the 30.3km course. It was the largest winning margin ever in a World’s TT — and the pair of Dutchwomen are no slouches. Both are former World Champions and have dominated the biggest races in women’s cycling for the past half-decade.
Indeed, few predicted that Dygert would win in Northern England, let alone by such a wide margin. But even fewer (if anyone at all) could have guessed the outcome of the Women’s Elite Road Race four days later, which saw Van Vleuten go on a jaw-dropping 104km solo romp to gold.
Dygert finished fourth in the road race after fighting a long battle in the chase group behind the flying van Vleuten. Both riders uploaded their road race data to Strava (see Dygert here, and van Vleuten here), with Dygert including her power numbers as well. It is both a fascinating and mind-blowing look into the women’s pro peloton. Let’s start with a tale of the tape.
Note, our power analysis for this story came from the Strava race files from both Chloé Dygert and Annemiek van Vleuten. Segment times and power numbers were estimated using the segment feature on Strava, as well as comparing real-time GPS rider data used during the race.
Height: 1.76m (5’ 9”)
Weight: 66 kg (145 lbs.)
Annemiek van Vleuten
Height: 1.68m (5’6”)
Weight: 62kg (137 lbs.)
The racing truly kicked off on the first of two categorized climbs, Jack Hill. Despite being only 14km into the race, the 1.7km ascent averages 9.2%, and early breakaway attempts flew, as the peloton began to split. Dygert Owen sailed up the climb at the front of the field, averaging nearly 6 W/kg for over six minutes.
Jack Hill Climb
Dygert’s Time: 6:04
Distance: 1 mile (1.7 km)
Average gradient: 9.2%
Average Power: 369 W (5.6 W/kg)
The second and final categorized climb of the day, Cray Hill (aka Lofthouse), came shortly after with still over 100km to go. Nevertheless, the women’s peloton raced into the bottom of the climb as if it were the finish. The 2.9km ascent averaged 8.5%, but the first pitch was the hardest.
For the entirety of the climb, Dygert averaged 5.5 W/kg for more than 10 minutes. But it was the first steep pitch that proved most decisive. Despite pushing over 6 W/kg for the first five minutes, Dygert, along with the rest of the women’s peloton, was dropped by van Vleuten. Indeed, on just the steep pitch alone, van Vleuten put 38 seconds into Dygert and the rest of the field.
Cray Hill (Steep Pitch)
Dygert’s Time: 6:51
Distance: 0.9 miles (1.45 km)
Average gradient: 12.1%
Average Power: 390 W (5.9 W/kg)
Van Vleuten’s Time: 6:13
Estimated Power-to-Weight: 6.5-7 W/kg
Just over 10km later, van Vleuten had a gap of nearly two minutes over the second group on the road, a concerted chase that included Dygert, van der Breggen, Elisa Longo Borghini, Lizzie Deignan, Amanda Spratt, Clara Koppenberg, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, and Soraya Paladin. The chase group more than halved the gap by the midpoint of the race, but then a series of attacks, counters, and general discord allowed van Vleuten’s gap to again balloon to over two minutes.
Top of Cray Hill to Harrogate
Dygert Time: 1:33:18
Distance: 37.7 miles (60.7 km)
Average speed: 24.3 mph (39.1 kph)
Average Power: 242 W
Max Power: 902 W
Van Vleuten’s Time: 1:31:42
Average speed: 24.6 mph (39.6 kph)
Greyston Plain Lane (44 km to go)
Dygert Time: 5:14
Distance: 1.3 miles (2.1 km)
Average gradient: 4.0%
Average Power: 287 W
Max Power: 902 W
(In the middle of the climb, Dygert attacked hard, her power spiking to 800+ watts three times in the space of 45 seconds.)
The women entered the Harrogate finish circuits with less than 50km to go, and van Vleuten’s gap was still over two minutes. It was a monumental effort, especially for a solo rider holding off a group containing former World Champions and Olympic Medalists.
Clearly discontent with the situation, Dygert launched two big attacks at the beginning of the Harrogate finishing circuits. The first dropped Uttrup Ludwig, Paladin, and Deignan. Less than a minute later, the young American attacked again, this one lasting for over two minutes and leaving her chasing van Vleuten alone. But the group of three left behind worked well together, and pulled Dygert back a couple minutes later.
First attack on Harrogate circuit
Dygert Time: 1:34
Average Power: 475 W (7.2 W/kg)
Max Power: 961 W
Second attack on Harrogate circuit
Dygert Time: 2:30
Average Power: 369 W (5.6 W/kg)
Max Power: 926 W
Just a couple minutes later, Dygert attacked again, peaking at 1010 watts and distancing her three breakaway companions. This time the attack stuck, as she gained over 30 seconds on the three chasers, while also slicing the gap to van Vleuten to under two minutes by the end of the first Harrogate circuit. But after pushing hard for the ensuing 15km, Dygert started to crack. The gap to van Vleuten rose again, and the chase group began closing down on the American.
Dygert Time: 30:02
Average Speed: 22.3 mph (35.9 kph)
Average Power: 298 W (4.5 W/kg)
Van Vleuten’s Time: 30:11
Average Speed: 22.2 mph (35.7 kph)
In the closing kilometers, Dygert began to slow, having gone into the red multiple times. She sat at the back of the group, and within a couple of kilometers was suddenly dropped. But she never gave up. Fighting all the way to the finish, she managed to hold off the riders behind, taking 4th place.
Dygert Time: 27:59
Distance: 10 miles (16.1 km)
Average Speed: 21.6 mph (34.8 kph)
Average Power: 260 W (3.9 W/kg)
Van Vleuten’s Time: 26:44
Average Speed: 22.5 mph (36.2 kph)
Dygert’s World’s Road Race
Distance: 98.1 miles (157.9 km)
Elevation Gain: 7835 ft (2388 m)
Weighted Average Power: 278 W (4.2 W/kg)
Max Power: 1010 W
Total Work: 3782 kJs
Max 5-minute Power: 405 W (6.1 W/kg)
Max 10-minute Power: 362 (5.5 W/kg)
Time spent over 300 W: 1:32:52 (34.8% of the race)
Time spent over 350 W: 52:05 (19.5% of the race)