With a flash of pink and blue, American Chloe Dygert zipped through the finish line in the centre of the Norwegian town of Bergen in September.
Ending her injury-filled road season at the UCI World Time Trial Championship, the 20-year-old looked far from pleased as she stopped the clock 25 seconds behind the formidable Dutch time trialist and race favourite, Anna van der Breggen.
The time was good for a brief second place. Annemiek van Vleuten had been on her heels and before Dygert had even dismounted her bike, the crowd roared and banged on the boards as they welcomed in the eventual race winner.
Dygert barely took note. With her back to the finish, she walked back to the team bus.
Minutes later, she’d make her appearance on the podium, sitting in the hot seats until Australian Garfoot unseated her to take home the bronze medal. The next day, Dygert would travel back to the US empty-handed but more motivated than ever.
Two years after winning the rainbow stripes in both the Junior World Time Trial and Road Championships, this had been Dygert’s first appearance at the elite world championships (not including the team time trial in Qatar in 2016). And while race commentators took note of her impressive fourth place performance, Dygert doesn’t see it that way. She lost — plain and simple.
“I was really bummed and I have been thinking a lot about it. And you know what, it wouldn’t have been any different if I had gotten second or last place, I would have been just as mad,” Dygert told Ella CyclingTips upon her return to the States.
“Even if I had gotten the bronze, I wouldn’t have been happy either. I have won one world championship already. I know what it’s like. I know the feeling, and I expect that of myself.”
When pointing out that her world-class competition was perhaps a tad stronger than the junior category of 2015, Dygert merely shrugged.
“It doesn’t matter to me who I am racing. I could have been racing Peter Sagan and I still would have been just as mad to not have won,” she said. “You see, you can’t change other people, you can only put in the work, the training and do the best you can do.”
And in the past, Dygert’s best meant gold.
America’s next big star
Dygert burst onto the American scene in 2013 when her racing debut resulted in three medals at the USA Cycling junior national championships, taking home the stars-and-stripes jersey in the criterium and bronze medals in the road race and time trial.
“My Dad had bribed me,” Dygert shared. “I was living in Indiana at the time and the junior nationals were held in Madison, WI, that year, which is in driving distance so he said, ‘If you go to nationals, you can use your brother’s Zipp wheels.” So I was like, ‘Sure, yeah. cool’. Afterwards I was like, ‘I’m going to be a cyclist now, this is great!’”
But fate had other plans. Finishing up her basketball season that year, Dygert tore her ACL and spent the 2014 season sidelined from both basketball and cycling.
Looking back now, Dygert said she hadn’t been all that convinced she’d return to cycling, but with a little push from her Dad, she narrowed in her focus and dominated the 2015 junior nationals.
The then 18-year-old won both the road race and the time trial, and finished second in the criterium, qualifying for the UCI junior road world championships in the process.
Held on home soil in Richmond, Virginia that year, Junior Worlds would become the stage for Dygert’s international breakout. Winning the rainbow stripes in the time trial and the road race, Dygert emerged as America’s biggest new talent.
A Natural Trackie
USA Cycling’s high performance program was quick to note Dygert’s talent. As they entered their final phase of preparations in the lead-up to the 2016 Summer Olympics, Dygert was invited to train with the team pursuit squad.
Still adapting to fixed-gear riding, Dygert quickly became an integral part of Team USA’s track success. Together, they won the team pursuit at the 2016 UCI Track World Championships, and four months later, they would find themselves in an extremely tight battle with Great Britain for Olympic gold.
New records were set and broken, but ultimately, the Americans had to make do with silver. It stung at the time, but it also helped Dygert learn how to lose.
“It’s good to learn how to lose,” she said. “The Olympics and now, these world championships, they’re hard to deal with but it can also be good. I mean the drive and motivation I have now after losing at the world championships is crazy; I just can’t wait to get back on my bike.”
Hunting rainbows and Olympic Gold
Dygert’s palmares is remarkable because it’s short in appearances yet rich in victories.
Since Rio’s disappointment, the American team pursuit squad defended their world title at the 2017 championships where Dygert also took home the rainbow stripes in the individual pursuit.
On the road, however, the Sho-Air Twenty20 rider was plagued with injuries.
A bulging disc in her lower back and labrum tear in her hip forced her off the bike for most of the summer.
“After Pan Am in May, I stopped riding my bike,” said Dygert, who won the Pan American Time Trial Championships and thereby netted a qualification for the World Championships in Norway.
“Before Worlds I had just started training again. I can probably count on one hand how many intense workouts I had completed before the World Championships,” Dygert said, adding that she even debated not going.
“[The injuries] are ongoing. It’s really frustrating and I’m still doing PT and it just takes time,” she said.
“I should just be thankful that I even got to go — and I am — but then again, I went and went to win. And I’m not going to sit here and say the injury impacted my performance. I mean, the course was hilly, probably too hilly for me.”
So rainbows next year then?
“Heck yeah!” Dygert responded.
Dygert has a thing with rainbows. While all cyclists dream of getting to wear the rainbow striped jersey even once, Dygert — already a five-time world champion — has a very special rainbow wish.
“I want to have the stripes every year of my career,” she stated boldly.
And while we were on the topic of bold dreams, she’s set herself an even bigger goal: going after her coach’s Olympic gold medal record.
“After Kristin Armstrong won her third gold medal at the Olympics last year, USA Cycling’s CEO Derek Bouchard tweeted that if I were to race as long as she has, then I’ll be going to the next six Olympic games. So that’s now my goal,” Dygert stated.
“It’s going to be tough, to win more than three gold Olympic medals. But if Kristin can do it — and she is now my coach — then I can do it. It’s only 23 more years!”
When asked about a retirement or two to break up the efforts, Dygert laughed.
“Nah, I don’t think I’ll retire, I might just take a break. I did put a timeline on when I want to become a mom. Right now it’s in eight or nine years, but we’ll see,” Dygert said. “The [gold medals] don’t have to be consecutive — I have six Olympics to go!”
Quick Fire Round of Questions:
Ella: Are you this competitive outside of sport as well?
Dygert: “Yah, it’s bad. I can’t play board games anymore. If I lose I’m not going to be happy at all.
“I tend to only do what I am or can be good at. I don’t mind trying other stuff, but I need to at least be able to win. It can’t be luck-based.”
How does that play out with your husband [fellow pro cyclist Logan Owen]?
“Every time we ride together, we have to climb this hill up to his house and every day, I have to beat him up the hill. Even if it’s been a hard ride and I’m totally thrashed, I just have to beat him. Every. Day.
“He’s competitive, too, but has more power to control it (and deal with me!). He lets me win. But that’s OK.”
Ella: You were a runner and a basketball player before you were a cyclist. Why did you choose cycling?
Dygert: “Honestly, if it wasn’t for my dad, I don’t think I’d be riding. But now, I love competition, I love standing on that top step and I love holding up our flag after a big event and representing my country.”
Ella: And if you weren’t a cyclist?
Dygert: “I would probably have a closet organization business or a cleaning business or something. I love cleaning and organising — that’s like my favorite thing.”
Ella: What’s with the pink shoes/booties?
Dygert: “I just like pink and every big race I’ll have my pink shoes on. It’s not superstitious. My socks though. At the Junior World Championships in 2015 in Richmond, I accidentally put my socks on the wrong feet and I ended up winning both the TT and the road race there, so ever since then I have switched my socks for big races. That’s my big superstitious thing I do.”
Ella: Since racing against the clock is your expertise, would you ever consider taking on the UCI World Hour record?
“Oh yeah, that’s something I’ll do in the next ten years or so.”
Ella: Any plans to race in Europe?
Dygert: “I have been with the Twenty20 program since the beginning, and they’ve been great. [Team manger Nicola Cranmer] has been super great with my schedule and given me plenty of flexibility to pursue whatever I want, so I can’t thank her enough. Not sure how lenient a different team would be so Twenty20 is the best for me.”
Ella: I hear you have a Michael Jackson obsession?
Dygert: “Yes! I’m a huge Michael Jackson fan. Felt even gave me a custom frame after becoming world champion on the track with an image of Michael Jackson image on it. It’s so awesome!”
Can you do the moon walk?
– “Heck yeah!”