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There were only two kilometers to go in stage 1 of the Joe Martin Stage Race. In Chloé Dygert’s mind, that equated to eight laps on the Olympic-distance velodrome she’s used to competing on. She attacked when others might have sat in to wait for a sprint. She won the 109.6km race Thursday, capping off an arduous recovery from a concussion suffered at the Amgen Tour of California, almost 11 months prior.
“It’s really special, especially having such a great team behind me to get this win today. It meant a lot,” the 22-year-old said, crediting her Sho-Air-Twenty20 team. “It’s really special to be able to come back from that injury.”
After her crash in May 2018, she’d hoped to come back in time to race U.S. Pro Nationals, but she was not ready for the race in late June. She managed to race and finish second at the Chrono Kristin Armstrong time trial in Boise in July. Things still weren’t right, though.
She went to Colorado Springs for a high-altitude training camp at the Olympic Training Center, and doctors there realized she was not ready to train or race. Her plans to go to the UCI Road World Championships went out the window.
“I was un-cleared to ride,” she said. “I still was struggling a bit with my vision. I wasn’t able to focus right. They took me off the bike. Then I had a bit of a knee injury. With everything that happened, it wasn’t smart for me to go to worlds.”
The following months were a challenge for Dygert. She wanted to ride and train at the level she’d done in the past, the level that earned her a silver medal in the Rio Olympics on Team USA’s pursuit squad. She couldn’t. Riding was inconsistent at best. She credits her support team for keeping her on track, people like her coaches Kristin Armstrong and Gary Sutton, her Sho-Air-Twenty20 team, and her family.
“Mentally things have gotten a lot better. I struggled for quite some time,” she said. “The support I had was unbelievable. I’m so grateful for everybody.”
She sought help from staff at the Olympic Training Center and worked with her sports psychologist. Then at the end of January, she turned a corner and started to feel normal again. She was able to get out and train with the volume and intensity needed to be a pro rider, a former track world champion, and an Olympian.
“I got back on the bike and something clicked,” she said. “I don’t know what it was but something clicked and training has been going so well.”
She’s used Zwift’s new KISS Super League virtual indoor trainer races to tune her top-end. At the end of March, she raced the Chico Stage race and cleaned up, winning stages 2, 3, and 4, as well as the overall.
Her win in stage 1 of Joe Martin is a huge leap forward, as it is the second race in the USA Cycling Pro Road Tour. However, she is still working to regain her confidence.
“There was a crash today in the race and I got held up — I didn’t go down or anything — but it was hard for me to be around it,” she said. “I struggle with turning and everything still. I’m still relearning how to do everything, getting the confidence to do everything again.”
She also credits her team from sticking by her side through the long recovery and keeping her on board for 2019.
“It’s great to see Chloé coming into form again,” said Sho-Air-Twenty20 general manager Nicola Cranmer. “This is a great way to start her Tokyo campaign.”
After the four-stage Joe Martin race, she’ll head to Tour of the Gila, Amgen Tour of California, and the Winston-Salem Classic. In the long run, she hopes to make the U.S. world road championships team. Her biggest goal is to return to the Olympics and race the team pursuit and the individual time trial.
She said the track team is still reeling from the loss of their teammate Kelly Catlin, who took her own life earlier this year. Dygert feels confident they can pull together for Tokyo.
“With Kelly’s passing, it’s definitely hard for the team pursuit,” she said. “It’s a big blow for the team, but we have such a great coach and the other girls on the team are going to work hard together and be as positive as we can. We have a few new talents coming in so hopefully, we can qualify.
“And I have the absolute best coach to help me get a spot for the time trial in Kristin Armstrong, and I’m super thankful for her support and that of her husband, Joe [Savola].”