Chloe Dygert-Owen (Sho-Air Twenty20) has fully recovered from a concussion and knee injury that sidelined her from competition for almost a year. In an interview with Cyclingnews, the multi-discipline athlete said she's feeling better than ever after winning performances in the time trial and team pursuit at the Pan American Games. She proved as much, once again, winning the opening stage at the Colorado Classic on Thursday. She is also thinking longterm about her career and aiming to attempt selection to the next six Olympic Games.
"It was good for me to go to Pan Ams, even just for the track, because I haven't raced in a long time," Dygert-Owen said in a phone interview with Cyclingnews ahead of the Colorado Classic. "Being on the track again gave me a lot of motivation. Having a good ride in the time trial gave me some confidence, too. It gets harder and harder to come back from injuries. This was the longest recovery that I've ever had to deal with, but I think I'm finally getting there. It's looking positive."
Dygert-Owen has a degenerative back injury that she said causes the vertebrae of her spine to feel like they are grinding. She said there is nothing she can do to fix the problem other than to make sure that she's as comfortable as possible on her bike. She also has ongoing hip and knee pain. She suffered a serious concussion at the Tour of California last year after being involved in a crash, which took her nearly a year to recover from.
"The knee issue and the concussion were what kept me from going to Worlds last year, and I missed the entire track season," Dygert-Owen said. "My effort at the Pan Am Games has probably been one of the best efforts that I've had since before the concussion.
"It's safe to say that, it's been over a year, but with the track training for Pan Ams, my strength is finally coming back. I'm not 100 per cent, but it was really exciting to be able to look at it and say, 'Wow, my body is actually recovering, and I'm doing what I should be doing again.' For a long time it was really frustrating looking down at my calendar and being so many watts off, so it's satisfying to see all the training coming together."
Dygert-Owen secured double world titles in the junior time trial and road race at the World Championships in Richmond in 2015. In the elite ranks, she was fourth in the time trial at the World Championships in Bergen in 2017. On the track, Dygert-Owen has won five gold medals in combined Individual Pursuit and Team Pursuit events at the World Championships, and a silver medal in the Team Pursuit at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
She began working with her road coach Kristin Armstrong after the Olympic Games in 2016. Armstrong is a three-time Olympic gold medallist (2008, 2012 and 2016) and two-time world champion (2006 and 2009) in the time trial. Dygert-Owen also works with track coach Gary Sutton, but said that her two coaches work together to get her ready for major objectives on the road and track.
"Everything correlates and they work well together to make sure that I'm the best I can be for each event," Dygert-Owen said. "It's amazing to work with Kristin and to have her as my coach. Having a relationship with her off the bike as well, we work well together, and she gets it. She has the mindset of a champion, and it's great because she motivates me."
Prior to the Pan American Games, Dygert-Owen hadn't raced on the track in more than a year, she returned to road racing this spring. She's had strong results, winning the Joe Martin Stage Race, coming second overall at Tour of the Gila, third at Winston-Salem Cycling Classic, second in the time trial at theUS championships and she won the Chrono Kristin Armstrong.
Chloe Dygert-Owen in the bunch during the USPro criterium.
Racing for Kelly Catlin
Dygert-Owen travelled to Lima, Peru earlier this month to race the Pan American Games, where she won both the time trial and the team pursuit. She said she raced the events in honour of her late teammate Kelly Catlin, who died tragically in March.
Catlin was part of USA Cycling's Team Pursuit alongside Dygert-Owen that secured the silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games. She also won gold with the Team Pursuit at the World Championships in 2016, 2017 and 2018. She collected numerous Pan American track titles with USA Cycling, and she also won gold in the individual time trial on the road at the 2015 Pan Am Games.
Dygert-Owen said she felt the loss of her friend and teammate while racing at the Pan American Games. "There' s not a day that goes by that I don't think of Kelly," she said.
"Being back on the track again was definitely weird, to not have her around or her little comments be said, not to walk with her to the track or see her on her little e-book. These are all the little things that we took for granted. It's weird not having her be there in the pit, making jokes, it's hard.
"We are all in good spirits, though. We all talk about Kelly. Yes, her loss is sad, but we want to always keep Kelly in the light. She was a wonderful person."
Asked if she felt like she had defended the time trial title at the Pan American Games in honour of Catlin, Dygert-Owen said, "Yes, for sure."
"The time trial that I won at Pan Ams, Kelly won it in Toronto four years ago. I don't get emotional for racing, and I wasn't emotional at Pan Ams, but in my heart, I got a very different feeling knowing that Kelly had won it.
"I felt like this race was for Kelly. It was a really special feeling."
Chloe Dygert-Owen and Kelly Catlin (center) with US Team Pursuit teammates Jennifer Valente and Sarah Hammer
Yorkshire Worlds and Tokyo Olympics
Dygert-Owen said that her next major goals are to be selected to the teams that compete at the upcoming UCI Road World Championships Yorkshire next month and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
She last competed at the road Worlds in Bergen in 2017, when she was fourth in the individual time trial. "I would love to be able to go to Worlds to do the time trial," she said. "If I got selected for the road race, I would love to go and be a teammate for whoever we are racing for on the US team."
The elite women will race along a 30km course in Yorkshire. It is a flat opening 12km and then undulates gradually on the approach to the finishing circuit in Harrogate.
"I would love to be competitive for a world title in the time trial - that's the goal," Dygert-Owen said. "At the beginning of the year, I would honestly have said it wasn't a possibility, but things are coming together now. We still have some time to get some good training in. I definitely believe that Kristin knows what I need to do. She's done it and she will know how to prepare me to be my best."
Dygert-Owen will compete in a full season on the UCI Track World Cup and World Championships over the winter months, before turning her attention back to the road and track ahead of the Olympic Games in Tokyo next August. She will aim to win medals in both the time trial and the team pursuit.
"We are learning again what my body needs to make sure that I'm the strongest that I can be," Dygert-Owen said. "If that means that I need more time on the track, less time on the road than that's what we will do. It's about finding the balance that I need. I'd go [to Tokyo Olympic Games] for the team pursuit, and hopefully the individual time trial, and if I could go to help a teammate in the road race that would be good, too."
She said that she has full confidence in her coaches; Armstrong and Sutton, to aim to win gold medals in both disciplines. "It's one of my goals. I go to every race to win," she said.
Dygert-Owen competed in her first Olympic Games at just 19 years old. She said she's aiming to have a long career in cycling and hopes to compete in the next six Olympic Games.
"Derek Bouchard-Hall [former CEO of USA Cycling] made a Twitter comment after Rio saying, 'If Chloe Dygert races as long as Kristin Armstrong, she'll be at the next six Olympic Games.' So, that's my goal. I'm trying to go to the next six. It might not be a full 23 years of racing. I might take a break here and there, but definitely the next six Olympics."