Chloe Dygert has lost three inches in circumference around her left quadriceps since undergoing surgery to repair an 80 per cent laceration sustained in an horrific crash at the World Championships in Imola, Italy, in September. The American talent remains calm, positive, mentally strong, and focused on recovering in time to win the time trial and team pursuit at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer.
Dygert was on her way to winning a second consecutive world title in the individual time trial at the World Championships when she crashed out on a descent, hitting an unpadded section of the guardrail, while on the return to the finish line in Imola. She was airlifted to a hospital in Bologna, where it was confirmed that she had suffered a deep gash to her left leg and required surgery, but she is expected to make a full recovery.
"I lacerated my quad with about 20 per cent still intact, and doctors were able to fix that, and sew that all back together," Dygert told Cyclingnews. "My tendon was also partially cut as well, and they sewed that back together. An MRI showed that my knee capsule was fine, with a little bit of cartilage damage and a bone bruise, but it's all manageable and healing up nicely. For the most part, I didn't know the extent of the injury, and although it looked bad, I knew nothing was broken because I was able to move my leg, but it never crossed my mind that I wouldn't be able to come back."
Dygert posted images and video footage of herself taking the first steps after surgery on September 29, and then was released from hospital on October 1, returning to her family home in Indiana to begin her recovery process. The muscle in her leg has atrophied a little, after being in a leg brace, but she is now beginning treatment and is slowly building back movement.
"We're still figuring everything out and it's looking likely that I'll be able to get on a stationary bike, with no watts, soon, and then be able to ride my bike again, but it all depends on the strength that I get back in my leg," Dygert said. "There's a three-inch difference between the two legs. I couldn't lift my leg and I was really struggling. They kind of woke the muscle up a bit and I could flex the muscle a bit while it was being stimulated. I was able to lift it, and it was a good session the other day."
With a little more strength, Dygert is expected to travel home to Boise in about two weeks before heading to Santa Monica in California for rehabilitation and physiotherapy. She has also discussed her injury with jumbo-Visma's Wout van Aert, who was involved in a horrific crash during the individual time trial at the Tour de France last July that left him with extensive injuries, including a deep gash that tore through skin, capsule and muscle across his upper thigh and hip.
Van Aert has made a full recovery, and went on to have one of his best seasons to date, winning Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo and two stages at the Tour de France, along with second places at the Tour of Flanders and the World Championships.
"It was good talking to Wout, just to hear about his recovery and the timeline of what he went through, and how he dealt with it. It gave me hope – not that I was worried – but look at where he is now," Dygert said.
'I didn't think that I was winning by enough'
Dygert blamed herself for the accident during the time trial, saying that she took the corner too fast and lost control of her bike. Many who saw footage of the accident, however, believe that the race organisers had not extended the padding along the guardrail far enough around the curve of the road, and that proper protection might have resulted in less severe injuries.
"In my mind, I didn't think that I was winning by enough, so I felt like I needed to push all the limits that I possibly could," Dygert said. "I had planned to ride that turn in my aerobars, so it wasn't a spur-of-the-moment thing – it was planned – but I needed to push the limits, and I was going too fast and couldn't control the bike. It's very vivid to me. It doesn't scare me, and I've seen replays of it and it doesn't bother me too much, and not as big of a deal as it looked, I think."
Dygert signed a four-year deal to race with Canyon-SRAM before the World Championships – a move that was just announced on Tuesday. She is set to leave her long-time development team Twenty20 Pro Cycling and will embark on her first season of racing on the Women's WorldTour in 2021, although she still has her sights firmly fixed on the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
"Canyon-SRAM was always going to be the team that I would go to," Dygert said. "Everything worked out. It was the plan from the beginning to go to a European team for 2021. Canyon-SRAM has always been the most consistent team to offer what I wanted and what I needed to be the best athlete I can be. They're giving me the opportunity to be myself as a person, but also as a track rider and a road rider, and they aren't going to pull me in any direction that won't benefit my career. I'm really happy with the move."
There were several teams interested in signing Dygert, but she said it was important to find a team that would allow her to remain working with her coach and three-time Olympic gold medallist Kristin Armstrong, and continue her time trialling and track pursuits, while offering flexibility and support for her Olympic goals.
"If they weren't going to let me keep my pink shoes or if I couldn't keep Kristin as a coach, or use my Red Bull helmet, it was, like, 'OK, you're out, you're done,'" Dygert said. "Canyon-SRAM was the team that was the most willing to let me be me."
Dygert will switch bikes for the first time in her career, from Felt Bicycles to Canyon Bicycles, but she feels assured that she will be supplied with only the best equipment for training and racing on the road.
"I wouldn't go to a team unless it had the best equipment, and I wanted to choose something that will benefit me and has top-of-the-line equipment so that I don't have to worry about whether or not I have fast wheels or bikes," Dygert said. "I know that I don't have to worry about that with Canyon-SRAM. I've been on Felt for my entire career so it will be strange jumping over. I'll stay on a Felt bike on the track, until Canyon develops a track bike, but I'm looking forward to giving Canyon a shot."
Although her focus next year will be on the Olympic Games, she is looking forward to joining the team the following year during the spring Classics.
"I really want to do some Classics and really be part of the team," Dygert said. "What's good about it is that having Kristin and her knowledge and experience, she can pick and choose the races that she thinks are best for me. It's good to have that experience so that I don't spread myself too thin and I can continue to be the athlete that I want to be."
Just hours after Dygert's accident in Imola, Armstrong told Cyclingnews that while it was devastating, she had no doubt that Dygert would come back stronger.
"She's the coach. She knows," Dygert said. "There hasn't been one second where I have felt like I wasn't going to make it or that I couldn't do this, and I have always been motivated. I will do anything I need to do to get better, heal and have no excuses when it's time for the Olympics."
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