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SACRAMENTO, California (VN)—American Chloe Dygert crashed in the final kilometer heading to the straightaway of the sprint of the first stage of the Amgen Women’s Tour of California into Elk Grove Thursday.
The Twenty20 rider was doing her part to lead out teammate Jennifer Valente when she pulled off, floated back, and hit the pavement. According to her team, Dygert is suffering from a concussion, bumps and bruises, and road rash. Though she is already making improvements, she will not start Friday’s stage 2.
“I’m upset to not be continuing the race but with strict team concussion protocol in place, there is no doubt that it’s the right decision,” Dygert told VeloNews. “I was looking forward to challenging myself on [Friday’s] stage and assisting our climbers.”
The 5-time track cycling world champion and 2016 Olympics silver medalist was participating in her first WorldTour race on the road, hoping to continue her early season success at the Joe Martin Stage Race and the Tour of the Gila by going for a stage win. Dygert first raced the Tour of California in 2015, one year before its jump to WorldTour status. The Indiana native won the best young rider classification that year and was part of the Twenty20 squad that beat the powerhouse team of Boels-Dolmans in the team time trial.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the team of coaches, directors, and advisors that manage this young phenom is how to balance all that she is capable of.
“A lot of times, as a coach, you are trying to motivate an athlete physically to push harder,” Dygert’s personal coach Kristin Armstrong said. “Chloe Dygert can write a book on that. I always tell her, ‘You don’t have a pain filter, do you?’ When she wants to do something, the more you tell her or question her, the more she’s going to do it. That’s what reminds me of myself. You say you can’t and I will. Her work ethic is high, her determination and drive are next to none.”
Armstrong is no stranger to pushing herself to success in the pro peloton, with three time trial Olympic gold medals and several national championships on her resume. Armstrong retired a few years ago, transitioning to a rider development role as a coach to several top athletes and the Performance Director at USA Cycling.
“What I really appreciate about Chloe is that one world championship win, or five world championship wins, is not enough,” Armstrong said. “Coaching Chloe, I call it non-traditional coaching. It’s really taught me as a coach to look at her as a very unique rider. During her training, she will turn herself inside out like most do for a world championship race. When Chloe says she’s tired, that means she’s actually showing weakness and that’s not her, so I take that very seriously.
“Coaching is also about the mental part, teaching someone as young as Chloe who has had super quick success, to look at things. I’ve been teaching her about the attention to detail. She now knows what her bike fit is, she know the measurements, she knows what gear she’s riding, that’s all a learning curve. She didn’t know that a couple of years ago. She would just basically be handed something and she would ride it.”
Dygert has been a beacon in her early career. The 21-year-old is learning how to balance the heavy expectations and demands on her following the world championships on both the track and the road, while still having fun with the sport.
Currently, in her first full road racing season, she has ridden away with the best young rider classification at Joe Martin and two stage wins at Gila, nearly stealing another in the Downtown Crit just behind her training partner Emma White of Rally Cycling. Regardless of the wins and early season success, however, the focus remains on the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“I’m in a really good situation here with Team Twenty20,” Dygert said. “I don’t ever feel stress, I don’t feel like I’m being pulled in any way. If I want to do a track event, I have the freedom to do that. Our team name is the Olympics. I think that’s why I’ve been on this team, that’s why Kristin Armstrong was on the team. We can do what we want to make sure we accomplish what we need to accomplish.”
Last summer, she was sidelined due to a hip and back injury. She has a torn labrum in her hip and a bulging disk in her back, something that has not healed properly. She’s learned to deal with the discomfort.
“I still have pain, I have pain every day,” Dygert added. “I have the torn labrum that’s in my hip, and then my back just won’t heal, it’s constant but bearable for the most part, physical therapy helps.”
A couple of months following the injury, Dygert tested her recovery at the inaugural Colorado Classic before deciding, along with Armstrong, to race the UCI track worlds six weeks later. She won.
“Her injury was definitely a concern last year,” Armstrong explained. “I told her I wasn’t going to tell her what to do, she had her spot [at worlds] and earned it at the Pan American Championships. However, I knew if I was in her shoes, when I participated at worlds, I wanted to go there to win. She couldn’t physically ride her bike from May to probably around the last day of July. Our deal was if she got through Colorado, we would focus on worlds. If she didn’t, we would pull the plug. She got through it.”
Managing the two schedules between road and track can be tricky with a rider so versatile and is earning success at both. Fortunately, Dygert has a strong team surrounding her, including Gary Sutton, USA Cycling’s head track endurance coach, and Nicola Cranmer, general manager for Twenty20, and Armstrong.
“You have to be really careful because Chloe races all year, basically,” Cranmer said. “Right when Gary Sutton joined USA Cycling, I flew down to Colorado Springs to meet with him to say we really want to have a balanced situation here. Then, of course, Kristin is heavily involved in that conversation and what does she believe is the best build for Chloe towards the track world championships, how much road should it include.”
Leave it to Dygert and she would do all of the above.
“Last year I was injured all year so I didn’t really do a lot of racing and it wasn’t fun,” Dygert said. “The races I did do, I wasn’t in shape. I didn’t do well and I was thinking, why am I even doing this? This year, Kristin has really gotten me where I need to be for the road season so far. If I really focus on road racing, I really don’t like stage races. I prefer a one-day race, that is what I would want to do. Of course, I would have to do some stage races here and there but I would like one-day races, then nationals, then worlds, then track and the time trials.”
For now, Dygert is using the road season as fitness.
“When they say it takes a village, it takes a village with Chloe,” Armstrong said. “Not that she’s difficult, it’s that she’s unique, she’s an outlier. There’s myself who coaches her, there is team Twenty20 who manages her on the road and provides that flexibility allowing her to fit a race schedule that wouldn’t necessarily be acceptable on other trade teams.
“She’s truly a medal contender and we’re talking multiple medals. It’s just a matter of how much she can do. Right now, we’re focused on the team pursuit and the individual time trial. She’s antsy, wanting to go to Europe for some one-days to see what she has. I think we’re finally in agreement that we’re doing that after Tokyo. Let’s win some gold medals first and then we can move on to conquering the road scene.”