Dygert-Owen’s dominance is the continuation of a dynasty
HARROGATE, England (CT) — On Saturday, Chloé Dygert-Owen will start her first road race across the Atlantic, ever. Today, she won a 30km elite world time trial championship by a minute and a half over the defending champion.
Seems a bit backwards, right? The story for talented young American cyclists goes in the other direction — show promise, get shipped to Europe, prove promise, or don’t. Dygert skipped a few steps.
That’s not too surprising, though, in the context of American time trial talents. The 22-year-old phenom, already the owner of a pile of rainbow jerseys from junior road worlds and the track, has molded herself in the image of her coach and mentor, three-time Olympic time trial champion Kristin Armstrong.
Dygert-Owen doesn’t race for a European team, she doesn’t race in Europe; compared to Anna van Der Breggen, second in the TT, and Annemiek van Vleuten, third, she hardly races on the road at all. She just shows up for the biggest time trials on earth, utterly focused, and she wins.
On Tuesday in Harrogate, she won by a lot. Dygert-Owen would have been 12th in the men’s U23 race this morning; she passed seven competitors like they were standing still. She sped by her one-minute woman, then two, all the way up to five, then six, then seven. She was dominant, at at the finish line, she was exhausted, collapsing to the ground.
At age 22, she became the the youngest rider, male or female, to win an elite time trial title at the UCI world championship. Hers was also the largest winning margin for any man or woman since the time trial was added to the world championships in 1994.
Dygert-Owen wasn’t the only American to finish in the top 10. Two-time world TT champion Amber Neben placed fourth, while 2019 Continental champion Leah Thomas placed seventh.
“I built up for this race specifically,” she said, still damp from her 42-minute and 11-second ride across a sopping wet Yorkshire.
Her slow buildup was forced, in a way, by a concussion suffered at the Amgen Tour of California in May 2018. Though she placed fourth in the elite TT world championship in Bergen in 2017, Dygert-Owen didn’t race last year’s road world championships, or the entire track season. It wasn’t until the Pan American Championships, barely over a month ago, that she finally felt like her old self again.
“I had the injury last year, my concussion, sat out,” she said. “So this was what I was training for this year.”
Armstrong, Dygert-Owen’s coach, used similar build-ups ahead of her gold medals, particularly the last two. She flew into Rio de Janeiro in 2016 with little more than a stint at the Tour of California and the US national time trial in her legs — as well as a stressful arbitration hearing for her Olympic slot, partially brought about by allegations that USA Cycling’s selection criteria favored light schedules over a full European campaign.
That tactic has its benefits — freshness, for one, and focus — but downsides as well. Dygert-Owen didn’t know how to compare herself to her closest competitors before she got here.
“I had no idea what to expect, this is my first time racing against these girls in two years,” she said. Then again, it was their first time racing against her in two years, too.
That matters a year ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, which are a major focus for Dygert-Owen. She’s looking to race both the track and time trial, and possibly the road race. And with such a dominant performance in Harrogate, she’s put her rivals on notice.
Van Vleuten, the 2018 world champion, made it clear that Tokyo isn’t a foregone conclusion. “I had a really off day,” she said. “She had an awesome performance and I underperformed today.” Her power, she said, was significantly lower than it was at Dutch TT nationals.
“We need to be on top of our game to be close to her,” van Vleuten said. “Chloe Dygert showed today that she was by far the best.”