The comeback is complete for Chloé Dygert three years after a crash that threatened to end the career of one of the world’s best before it truly began. The 26-year-old American collected her second gold medal of the UCI’s all-in-one worlds of 2023: first in the pursuit on the track, and first in the road time trial… a victory that highlights the strength and determination of a remarkable rider.
Elite TT Gallery by Stefano Sirotti (Words by Rob Arnold)
“This is really special. It’s not just special for me, it’s special for everybody behind me: the team, Canyon-SRAM, USA Cycling, my family, my personal team… it means a lot for us.”
Chloé Dygert is a superstar of world sport and for those who have followed her career since her teenage years, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that she has won another couple of world titles as she rides into what is usually the prime age for an elite cyclist. At 26, the American is the world champion in the individual pursuit on the track and world champion for the time trial on the road.
Even if we just consider the challenges faced in recent days – when illness impacted her on the eve of her second race in Scotland, the elite women’s time trial – it is impressive that Dygert was able to beat last year’s TT silver medallist Grace Brown from Australia.
These two women know what it’s like to stand on the podium at the world championships; they’ve done it before and they’ll surely do it again in the years to come… and, in the end, Dygert and Brown were only separated by 5.67 seconds. Gold to America, silver for the Australian for a second year in succession.
The rest of what must be one of the most international fields ever assembled for a world championship race were well behind these two time trial stars on the 36.2km course in Stirling.
Christina Schweinberger, the 26-year-old from Austria, rounded out the podium, collecting the bronze medal with a time that was 1:13 slower than Dygert.
“To be honest, I was really worried,” Dygert said in the post-race interview with Sebastian Piquet who wanted to know how badly affected she was by the illness in the days leading up to the time trial.
“If the race was yesterday I don’t think I would have started. I spent the last four days praying to God that I’d be okay today. I’m still not 100 percent but I started the race today to give it everything I could. It was just enough for today and I’m very pleased.”
With a calm tone, considered responses – easily delivered by a woman who has endured enormous setbacks in an interrupted career – Dygert paid tribute to her nearest challenger. Brown was the second last rider to start the time trial in Scotland and while Dygert had plenty of time to collect her breath after the effort that saw her cover the course at an average speed of 46.216km/h, there was never a moment when victory seemed certain.
Watching from the hotseat Dygert knew that the Australian TT champion was likely to race onto the podium. And although some of the other title favourites faltered – or simply didn’t have the speed to challenge for gold – the anticipation remained right to the end.
“Grace Brown is amazing,” said Dygert. “That was just a huge and amazing run for her.”
Dygert has been victorious before but 2019 seems like eons ago, particularly given the injuries she sustained in a crash in the 2020 championships.
In the worlds of the first year of the pandemic, Dygert was well clear of her rivals at all time checks before the accident that almost ended her blossoming career. Dramatically slicing her leg on the guardrail that she flipped over on a downhill near Imola, the defending champion’s career came to a grinding halt.
It could have been the end of her racing days but Dygert is no ordinary bike rider, no ordinary person. The images of her injuries are best left unseen but they have been published and they are difficult to look at.
The scars remain but the comeback continues… even if she could indeed retire today knowing that she has been able to overcome the trials of the past few years.
And yet these championships – and other conquests throughout the 2023 season – highlight that Dygert still has more to give to a sport that can be beautiful but also horribly cruel.
The pursuit win a week ago, the first elite title decided on the track, was a thing of beauty. Controlled pacing, powerful pedalling… and the top step of the podium a reward for resilience and determination.
Only a week ago, Dygert cleared the many hurdles that stood in the way of her comeback and completed the 3,000m race, catching her rival in the final and just missing out on beating her own world record (3:16.937) by a fraction of a second. If she hadn’t had to manage the passing manoeuvre to get around silver medallist Franziska Brausse, her time of 3:17.542 would have been even less.
Her achievements in the pursuit is what helped establish Dygert as a star of her sport. In Berlin in February 2020, the major cycling championships before the pandemic took hold, she twice broke the world record she set while winning the world title in 2018…
At 21, Dygert seemed unstoppable but then came the crash while in the lead of the time trial at the road worlds of 2020. It wasn’t just a race that was lost, it was also a huge amount of blood. And the scars of the accident – mental and physical – remain. They are very much part of the Chloé Dygert story, even if she would rather forget that they exist.
Every day she is reminded of what happened in Imola and it would be completely logical if she opted to never ride a bike again because of the fear the accident created. Again, however, it’s worth noting that Dygert is no ordinary person.
The win overnight in Scotland is one to celebrate, not just for Dygert, USA Cycling, and the others she credited during her interview. It’s a victory against all odds, and a gold medal that will put a smile on the faces of many, even those who she beat.
It’s a bike race but it is also another chapter in the inspiring story of a phenomenal athlete who has a special gift and unique ability to reach beyond the pain threshold and achieve special things. Chloé Dygert, we salute you and your conquests. It is a result that’s inspiring as much as it is impressive.
– By Rob Arnold