Chloe Dygert was on her way to winning a second consecutive world title in the individual time trial at the 2020 UCI Road World Championships when she crashed out on a descent on the return to the finish line in Imola. Following the horrific accident, Cyclingnews spoke with her coach, two-time world champion and three-time Olympic gold medallist, Kristin Armstrong, who confirmed Dygert was airlifted to a hospital in nearby Bologna.
USA Cycling confirmed that Dygert suffered a deep laceration to her left leg and required surgery. She underwent surgery on Thursday evening and is resting comfortably, and she is expected to make a full recovery, according to a USA Cycling press release.
"She was flown to a hospital in Bologna and she is being seen by doctors in the emergency room now. USA Cycling have two staff members with her at the hospital," Armstrong said immediately following the crash.
"They were all concerned with a deep laceration to her leg, where she hit that guard rail, it’s horrifying and sickening, and it’s going to be a hard recovery for Chloe.
"But I always have to look at the good news, and that is that Chloe is in good hands, people are taking care of her and she has a good team around her. I spoke with her father, and hopefully he can get over there, but it’s tough with COVID. She has a huge team behind her and a lot of well wishes.
"This is definitely a serious accident but she will look back on it, and hopefully, be able to say that she was lucky in a lot of ways. It could have been more serious."
The elite women raced a 31.7km flat, out and back, route that started and finished at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola. Dygert, who went into the race as the defending champion and favourite to win, had set the fastest 14.9km intermediate check point with an astonishing 19:35 minutes.
Dygert didn’t finish the race after she seemed to have lost control on a descent, hitting a guardrail and going down the steep grassy verge on the other side. She hit the guardrail at a point just after the protective padding had ended.
Armstrong said that Dygert was treated by race medical staff in an ambulance and then airlifted to the hospital in Bologna. She was confirmed to be conscious, however, the extent of her injuries, and the deep laceration, were not confirmed by USA Cycling until later in the evening.
"I was watching the race and she was up on her competitors at the halfway point by a significant margin in the time trial," Armstrong said. "As a coach I was texting [Chloe and Team USA] saying 'good job' but this is horrifying and heartbreaking. You can never count the race over until it’s over. Chloe was doing what she loves to do. She was attacking the course, had high speeds, and laying it all out on the line. Part of cycling is taking risks and unfortunately a really bad accident happened."
Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) went on to win the world title with Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) taking silver and Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands) the bronze.
'I’m sickened by what’s happened to Chloe'
Dygert began working with Armstrong after the Olympic Games in 2016. Armstrong is based in Boise, Idaho, and was not able to attend the World Championships but was in constant communication with Dygert in the lead-up to the time trial.
She told Cyclingnews that she was watching the time trial from her home and was so shaken by the accident that she hardly remembers how she reacted, and has been in a state of worry for her athlete over the past few hours. She has also been in communication with Dygert’s father and with USA Cycling following the accident.
"I can’t sit down," Armstrong said. "I spend so much time with her and I’m sickened by what’s happened to her. When you know the feeling of what you’ve put into this, and then this outcome, it is just… there’s nothing that you can say or do to make it better.
"As a coach, I have the same nerves as I did as an athlete because I put so much into Chloe’s success. When I see something like this happen … I was on the couch with my family watching the race, and we saw this devastating crash. I barely remember it because I was in my own zone and even now, a few hours later, I don’t know what to do. I feel like I have all this energy, anxiety, anxiousness of not being able to be there for her.
"I called her father, which was hard, and it’s hard to know what to say. It affects people; family, loved ones, and even other competitors. The images of something like this happening affects people, mentally. This situation will have affected people on many different levels."
Armstrong said the accident would not only impact Dygert and her family, but also her rivals that were racing in the time trial. She spoke of how hard it is for athletes to witness their colleagues crash and she noted how bittersweet the victory would be for Van der Breggen.
Van der Breggen won her first time trial world title in Imola, after placing second on four previous occasions. She also won the Giro Rosa, for a third time in her career, last week after her compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten crashed on stage 7 and abandoned with a broken wrist while in the race lead.
"Think about Anna van der Breggen’s situation of winning the Giro Rosa after Annemiek van Vleuten crashed out and then winning the time trial at the World Championships after Chloe crashed," Armstrong said.
"You can’t forget that Anna is a fierce competitor, and this is bike racing, and Anna deserves every piece of her wins at Worlds and at the Giro Rosa, but you can only imagine how she feels on the podium. She’ll be both sad and happy, I’m sure. We all have a heart, and even though we are fierce competitors, we all have emotions."
Armstrong played a key role in Dygert’s preparation for the World Championships. She knows, better than most, how hard Dygert trained for this event and how much it meant for her to attempt a second victory.
"Chloe puts everything into what she does in bike racing," Armstrong said. "People are fascinated by her because of her character and how she competes. She is a fierce competitor and a fierce trainer. She loves going out and riding hard, doing intervals. She doesn’t race as much as other athletes but Chloe likes to dig deep and crush workouts, and has an insane attitude to do the work."
Dygert does not compete on the Women's WorldTour road racing circuit, as many of her rivals do, since her team, Twenty20 has a domestic-elite license with USA Cycling for this year. Instead, the 23-year-old world champion chooses to focus primarily on training and racing individual time trials on the road and pursuits on the track.
"Chloe trains with power meters so we knew how strong she was ahead of Worlds," Armstrong said. "We know what world-class [power] is and although we couldn’t know how well her competitors like [Anna] van der Breggen or [Annemiek] van Vleuten, who obviously was out after crashing, and [Ellen] van Dijk, who we knew would be a great competitor on this course – we knew Chloe had everything dialed. She had an amazing attitude going into Worlds, and she was pushing the big ring like it didn’t even hurt, she had that feeling of being so ready.
"Everything in her preparation was great and it was probably the longest streak we’ve had, as far as setbacks and injuries go. They won the track World Championships at the start of the year and then we took a break through COVID-19, and she has been in Boise and then in Colorado training her power preparations at speed behind a motor on the track."
Dygert, just 23 years old, has a long history with winning championships events. She 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, followed by a victory in the time trial and fourth in the road race last year in Yorkshire.
On the track, Dygert has won seven 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 was recently named to the USA Cycling national team that will compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer, on the track and road events, and she plans on competing in the next six Olympic Games.
Dygert has also come back from a number of injuries throughout her illustrious career. She has a degenerative back injury that she said causes the vertebrae of her spine to feel like they are grinding, but has 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, and she suffered a serious concussion at the Tour of California two years ago, after being involved in a crash, which took her nearly a year to recover from.
Armstrong said that she is hopeful that Dygert will make a strong comeback to cycling, and hopeful that she will recover from her injuries sustained in the crash in Imola.
"The Band Perry has a song called Comeback Kid, and I used to listen to that when I was coming back from my retirement and people would be like 'ah she’s coming back again'. I think about Chloe and that song Comeback Kid, because it’s not normal to come back from all the injuries that she’s had to come back from, but her character is so strong that there is no doubt that Chloe will, in due time, find that inner motivation and come back," Armstrong said.
"She loves competition and the thrill of winning is in her DNA, and that will help her heal. She loves to win. The most important thing for Chloe is to trust the process when she’s coming back. We all have to have patience and trust the process. It won’t happen overnight and when we realise that, and have patience, there is no question that Chloe will come back stronger than ever. If there were ever a comeback kid, it’s Chloe."