After battling through one nagging injury after another, Olympic silver medalist and five-time world champion Chloe Dygert-Owen says she’s finally back to feeling like her old self.
It sure looked that way in Stage 1 of the Colorado Classic.
The American cyclist made a smooth move when the terrain was at its roughest Thursday, pulling away from the lead pack on a downhill, gravel stretch of the 53.2-mile road race and holding that edge all the way to the finish.
A competitive field littered with riders representing 20 countries simply had no answer. By the time that runner-up Whitney Allison of Hagens-Berman made it to the line, 48 seconds had passed since Dygert-Owen’s rather reserved victory celebration.
Attacking at the top of the final climb was all part of the plan for Sho-Air Twenty20, though the winning time gap had to be even larger than team director Mari Holden could have hoped for at the start of the sun-drenched day in Steamboat.
“We had talked about attacking when she felt the timing was right,” Holden said. “I thought it would be a little bit later, but we knew that coming off the gravel into the flat parts toward the end was good for her. Even though she went early, it was decisive.”
Said Dygert-Owen: “I had some good legs today and saw everybody suffering. I looked back and saw there was a little bit of a gap. It started to spread out, and I knew that was my only chance.”
TIBCO rider Brodie Chapman, who finished 50 seconds behind in third, wasn’t part of the front group as Dygert-Owen made her move. And when the Australian finally caught up to the pack of cyclists trying to chase down the leader, she received the bad news.
“When I got back to the group with my teammate Lauren (Stephens) and we heard that Chloe Dygert was up the road, I think my reaction was like, ‘Oh man. It’s going to be hard,’” Chapman said. “She’s a hard one to reel in, that’s for sure.”
On this day, the task proved impossible — even for defending champion Katie Hall. The U.S. National Team rider took ninth and is among a large group who trail by 54 seconds.
Thursday’s performance is just the latest in a string of strong outings this month for Dygert-Owen. She’s coming off an impressive trip to Lima, Peru, where she won a pair of gold medals at the Pan American Games — one in track cycling and one in the road cycling time trial.
Now she hopes to build on the success. The first step comes in protecting the yellow jersey given to the overall leader, and that won’t be easy over the next three days.
Friday’s route in Avon is the queen stage of the Colorado Classic. The 50.3-mile course features several fast laps through town, a steep climb toward Beaver Creek and a technical descent back to the finish.
“It takes a more complete bike racer to win on a stage like that,” Hall said.
The women’s-only event concludes this weekend with stages in Golden and Denver.