The plan was for Chloe Dygert to win the world championship in the time trial, then carry that momentum toward the Summer Olympics, where the American road cycling star would be the favorite to win the gold medal.
That was three years, a career-threatening crash and immeasurable heartache ago.
Perhaps Dygert’s plan will come to fruition this time.
Despite dealing with an illness that might have kept her off the start line a day earlier, Dygert roared over the 36.2-kilometer course to Stirling Castle in a time of 46 minutes, 59.80 seconds Thursday. That was enough to hold off Australia’s Grace Brown, the silver medalist a year ago, by just 5.67 seconds and give Dygert the rainbow jersey she first won in 2019 in England.
“This is really special,” said Dygert, who was leading the 2020 time trial in Italy before crashing into a barrier, sliding down an embankment and so severely injuring her left leg that it took multiple procedures and several months to get back on the bike.
“It’s not just special for me, it’s special for everyone behind me,” added Dygert, who is now the favorite to win at next year’s Paris Olympics. “This means a lot for us. You know, it’s just trusting the process and God’s plan and I’m really thankful for this.”
In other world championships decided Thursday, Yu Shoji of Japan won the men’s BMX freestyle flatland competition and Aude Cassagne of France took the women’s title. Pauline Ferrand Prevot of France defended her short-track mountain bike title while Samuel Gaze of New Zealand won the men’s event.
Dygert had dominated the individual pursuit on the track earlier in this year’s world championships in Glasgow, Scotland, sending a warning to her closest competitors on the road that the 26-year-old from Indiana was returning to world-class form.
It’s taken a long time to get there.
Not only were there surgeries to repair the damage to Dygert’s leg, she also had to deal with the Epstein-Barr virus that sapped her of her energy, and a heart procedure to treat a chronic condition that she had dealt with for a decade. There was even another crash during a training camp in January, which kept her off the bike until March.
Not surprisingly, Dygert told The Associated Press, there were moments of crippling depression. And while she made it back in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, she was nowhere near the condition needed to compete for a medal.
Yet there she was on the top step of the podium again Thursday, the gold medal once again hanging from her neck and her hand over her heart as the national anthem played and the U.S. flag was raised above the rest.
“If the race was yesterday, I don’t know if I would have started,” Dygert said. “I spent the last four days praying to God that I would be OK. I’m still not 100 percent, but I started the race today to give everything I could and it was just enough.”
The starting field is usually ordered so the favorites go last, but Dygert had an unenviable position in the middle because of her lack of racing over the past year. And that meant she could only guess at the pace she would need over the course of the ride, rather than relying on time checks from the heavy hitters still to come.
She wound up reaching the first checkpoint 17 seconds ahead of the pace of Brown, who started near the end, and she was 30 seconds up at the second checkpoint. But while Dygert sat on the hot seat, having long finished her ride, Brown pulled back six seconds to trail by 24 with the final five uphill kilometers left to Stirling Castle.
Brown nearly pulled it back. By the time she reached the cobblestoned finish, she was just six seconds behind in second place.
“I think knowing how close it is, I feel like I could have paced my ride a little better,” Brown said. “So yeah, I feel like those six seconds I could have got somewhere. But I really had nothing more to give when I came across the line.”
Dygert and Brown were clearly the class of the world championship field. Christina Schweinberger of Austria finished more than 1:12 off of the winning time to earn the bronze medal, while Britain’s Anna Henderson was three seconds further back in fourth.
Marlen Reusser of Switzerland, who had been on the podium at the past three worlds, failed to finish her ride.
Dygert still has the road race on Sunday to wrap up her world championships. Then, she will turn her focus toward the Paris Games, which are now less than a year away, and a chance to win that Olympic title she had targeted three years ago.
“It’s been a long three years,” Dygert said. “To be able to have this jersey is absolutely unbelievable.”
AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games