Episode 1/5 : Chloé Dygert: „The Tour is such a huge goal!“
IN THE PELOTON ….
From the 24th to the 31st July, we will be looking at a handful of favourites for the Maillot Jaune on the Super Planche-des-Belles-Filles. Nevertheless there are many riders amongst the 144 taking to the start-line that will be looking for their moment in the sun on this historic first edition. Let’s meet 5 champions with an ambition to shine.
One of the best track riders in recent years with seven World Champion titles and two Olympic medals, USA’s Chloé Dygert also aims to make the most of her raw power on the road. It started off in impressive fashion with the 2019 World Championships on the road, where she took the rainbow jersey in the time-trial and finished 4th of the road race. Since then, the 25-year-old star has suffered serious misfortunes with a crash in the roadside barriers at the 2020 Worlds and the Epstein-Barr virus earlier this season. Dygert says she’s been used to setbacks since she was a kid, and she’s always come back stronger. She’s now in her „last bit of rehab work“ as she aims to chase the Maillot Jaune next month with Canyon//Sram Racing.
Chloé Dygert stormed to the podiums as soon as she appeared on the international scene as a junior. A former basketball player, upset by injuries, she won the world championships in the United States in Richmond… in the time trial and in the road race. Her collection of titles and rainbow jerseys rapidly grew as she joined the Elite ranks, first on the track. In 2016, she became a world champion in the team pursuit in London. Among the many feats of her career on the track, Chloé Dygert broke the world record of the individual pursuit for the first time in 2018 at the world championships in Apeldoorn in the Netherlands. She has since improved it twice at the 2020 Worlds.
Almost three months after being diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus, how are you?
Every day is a new day. Sometimes I’ll have really good days, and other days feel like I took three steps back. It’s been a very frustrating process but I’m just trusting those around me as we’re doing everything we can with the team, USA Cycling and my doctors. I’m in Indiana right now and tomorrow [on June14th] I fly back to Colorado Springs to do my last bit of rehab work. I’m just taking it day by day and hoping I can overcome this soon because I still have a lot of things that I want to do this season. I planned at the beginning of the year to do Nationals, Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift and the Worlds. So those are still on my list to accomplish. It’s just a matter of if my body can get there in time.
How do you hang on when you can’t be a rider?
I go back to my faith and I think of this being just God’s plan. And as much as I don’t agree with it all the time, I know that in the end I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing in his terms. I remember the first injury that I had when I was a little girl, it was a back injury. I’m very used to setbacks. It is frustrating, especially when I’m having to sit out for such a long period of time but I do think it’s an advantage to have been able to mentally overcome these physical setbacks. I struggle with it, every day, it’s not easy. But it also makes it easier when things go wrong on race days. Like, in the 2019 World Championships, when the time-trial was delayed because of the weather conditions, I remember it being such a huge deal for all the girls. For me, yes, it might have been a little bit frustrating, but I didn’t want it to affect me, because everybody is in the same boat. It’s just something that we have to adapt to and we have to overcome.
“I hope there’s gonna be time trials in the next years,
that it will just grow and become the all-time
best women’s event cycling can have.”
How did road racing enter your horizon?
I was bribed! I started mountain biking. And I was told: “If you do the Junior Nationals on the road, you can use your brother’s wheels on your mountain bike”. I was like: “Yeah! Ok, I’ll go.” That’s how I got into road, and then I went to the junior Worlds in 2015, the year before the Rio Olympics. USA Cycling had access to all my data and everything, and with that, I was put in touch with Andy Sparks at the time, the coach on the track, and he invited me out for a camp, just to see where I’d fit in and how I would perform. It got me to Rio and now I’m a dual discipline athlete.
Were you also following the sport as a fan?
I was more interested in doing things rather than watching them! In America, when you think of cycling, when you don’t know anything about it, you think of the Tour de France! So the fact that now we have a Women’s Tour de France is a huge accomplishment.
So have you been talking about the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift with your father?
Of course! I’ve been talking about it with everybody! It’s such a huge goal! It’s a goal for all these women to be part of the first ever Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. It’s a huge step forward for all of us and I hope this is just the benchmark, the starting ground to what it’s gonna become. I hope there’s gonna be time trials in the next years, that it will just grow and become the all-time best women’s event cycling can have.
The eight stages will bring different types of challenges. How do you approach them?
We have a super strong team, so if I’m there I’m gonna do what’s good for me but also for the team. If that means I work for the team the whole time, that’s what I’m gonna do. This is such a huge opportunity. Being on the top step, it doesn’t matter if it’s me or someone else wearing our colours. It would be such an honour to be part of it and help us go for that Maillot Jaune.
How do your abilities on the track translate on the road?
I do enjoy being in a peloton and I always set my standards high. Everybody makes it sound that it’s such a hard thing, being in the peloton. I actually was told that I probably wouldn’t make it in the front group in my first European race, and that was the World Championships in Yorkshire. Lizzie Deignan said, and it stuck with me: “You either have that instinct or you don’t.” I think I have been blessed with… I know in my head where I should go. Sometimes it doesn’t always work, but at least I know. I can’t wait to race more because I do have the confidence in my performance, I do have the confidence in my training, I know I have the strength to accomplish the goals that I want to accomplish. It’s about getting the experience, the time on the bike, with the team, and really learning how to work as a team and focusing on that dynamic to pull together the win.
Chloé’s power extends to the road with a bang in 2019. At the world championships in Yorkshire, she won the time trial ahead of Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten. In the road race, she finished just off the podium (4th). Chloé’s winning streak came to a halt at the Imola Worlds in 2020, when a violent crash prevented her from completing her race towards another rainbow jersey. The consequences of her injuries then disrupted her 2021 season. After a long period of interruption, the American rider was able to resume competition at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. She left with 7th place in the individual time trial… and also a bronze medal on the track.
Chloé Dygert (Canyon//Sram Racing)
Born on January 1, 1997 in Brownsburg (Indiana, United States of America)
Teams: Twenty16-Ridebiker (2015-2016), Twenty20 Pro Cycling (2017-2020), Canyon//Sram Racing (2021-2022)
Major results :
• 2015: junior World champion in the road race and the ITT
• 2016: World champion in the team pursuit, silver medalist in the team pursuit at the Olympic Games
• 2017: World champion in the individual and team pursuits, Pan American champion in the ITT
• 2018: World champion in the individual and team pursuits
• 2019: World champion in the ITT, Pan American champion in the ITT, winner of Joe Martin Stage Race
• 2020: World champion in the individual and team pursuits
• 2021: USA champion in the ITT, bronze medalist in the team pursuit at the Olympic Games
Distinctive sign: with 1m75 and 67 kg, Chloé Dygert is easily noticed, even when she does not wear a rainbow jersey. “I will never climb better than girls who are 50 pounds lighter than me but I do everything to be the best rider possible.”
Juliette Labous: „I feel the pressure mounting“ (2/5)
As one of France’s promising up-and-coming cyclists since the junior category, Juliette Labous has been rising a little higher each year in the hierarchy of the best female climbers. At 23 years of age, she carries on her shoulders the greatest French hopes for a good result in the general classification, provided she is chosen by her DSM team, which is not in doubt. She feels ready to aim for the Top 5 in this first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, a year after she finished seventh in the Giro Rosa. The Bisonta native has just gotten a boost of confidence after winning her first World Tour race, the Tour of Burgos, in mid-May, just before her training stage in Tignes (25 May to 15 June).
BMX, mountain biking, cyclocross… Juliette Labous experimented on all types of terrain before becoming a professional on a road bike. In the youth categories, she was even one of the winners.
It was in the mud of the French championships in Pont-Château that Juliette Labous won her first tricolour jersey, then in the junior category. Still, in the junior category, it was then on a global scale that Juliette Labous made her mark, with a bronze medal in the time trial at the 2016 Doha Worlds.
You were born in Besançon and have always lived in the area, but Labous is a Breton surname (pronounce the S), and it was in Finistère, in Kerlouan, that your brother taught you how to ride a bicycle on the paved terrace of a gîte.
Yes, I must have been three years old. I remember falling into a flower pot! There were a few falls, but then it was all over, and I’ve never stopped since. Every summer, we spent a week in Finistère. My paternal grandfather is from there. But otherwise, I’m franc-comtoise!
You have a sister, ten years older, and a brother, five years older. It was thanks to him that you developed a passion for cycling.
Yes, Quentin made me want to do it. I followed him everywhere. He was my role model! Quentin started with BMX, and I followed him. It was the same for mountain biking and then for the road. Our parents supported us but never pushed us. One day they brought in trucks to lay down soil to turn our garden into a mini-BMX track!
Your brother stopped his studies at 18 to give himself a chance to go pro.
Yes, school no longer suited him. It was now or never, but it didn’t work out, but it could have.
By achieving this yourself, do you feel fulfilling a dream for two?
A little bit. Yes and no. My brother taught me a lot and always gave me the right advice. He wasn’t lucky enough to meet the right people and for everything to go smoothly, which was my case.
You were trained at the Besançon hopefuls centre, under the supervision of Matthieu Nadal, before joining the professional ranks as soon as you left the juniors with your current team. Was this the very first team to contact you?
Yes, they did after the Richmond Worlds, when I was a J1. The team’s sporting director had contacted me on Facebook. I didn’t know at first if it was real! He arranged for me to do training camps at the beginning of J2, and our relationship developed naturally. They took youngsters to the „Talent Days“ scouting camp every year. It went well, and I won a stage at Albstadt in the Nations Cup. After that, they said to me: „You are welcome in the team!” FDJ contacted me, but it was practically a done deal with Liv-Plantur (the former name of Sunweb and Team DSM). I wanted to join them because they were a foreign team, and I wanted to experience the Dutch cycling culture. It was a dream; there was little question about it.
At the time, Marianne Vos was a particular inspiration to you.
Yes, because she won everything! Women’s cycling didn’t get much media coverage in those days. In the few races we saw, it was her or Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. Julie Bresset also inspired me with her Olympic title in London (in mountain biking). I had my idols in BMX when I was younger, like Laetitia le Corguillé. I took a photo with her when I was very young. I ran into Laetitia again two years ago during a seminar in Dijon. She and I took another picture together and had a good laugh. I learned that she had named her daughter Juliette!
As a child, could you identify with the male riders watching the Tour?
No, not really. I liked watching, but as there were no girls, I couldn’t say I wanted to do it. It was like becoming a professional; the idea didn’t come until later. But I went to see the Tour when it passed by my place. It happened two or three times. I remember the time trial in Besançon in 2012. We went to ride the day before to try to see the pros! It left an impression on me. There is another thing too: during a training camp with the Franche-Comté committee, Sandrine Guironnet took us to see the Route de France in Arc-et-Senans… I recently spoke to Evita Muzic about it because she was there too. Watching all those female teams motivated me. I had the impression that they were pros, even if, at the time, this was not the case.
You will be the best French chance for the general classification, to aim for a top 5. How do you feel about the pressure you’ll be under with a month left to go before the race?
I can feel it starting to mount. I am hearing more about it from the general public to those around me, but I think I’m ready for it. I was the only representative at the Olympics last year, where I was already feeling the pressure. Generally speaking, it’s not something that holds me back. It doesn’t scare me too much.
Have you talked with Romain Bardet about this? He has been in this role for a long time and has also ridden for Team DSM since last year?
No, but there would indeed be something to talk about! We talk sometimes. It was complicated last year because of Covid and the bubbles to be respected. At the last meeting with the men’s team, we had a good chat with all the French riders, including the newcomers, Romain Combaud and Léa Curinier.
Do you have any idea what your friends and family have in store for you for the two stages in the Vosges? La Planche des Belles Filles is only 100 kilometres from Besançon.
No, but I think there will be a lot of people! It’s going to be something special.
Do you have a fan club?
No, not officially!
But you can count on the support of your parents. Your brother told us that they have said they only want to follow a few stages. But he thinks they are lying and will, in fact, do the whole thing!
It’s not impossible! I don’t think they will be there in Paris, it’s a bit difficult, even if only logistically. I believe they will be too eager to come after watching a stage or two on TV. They have already deviated from their initial plan! At first, they were only talking about the last three stages. They are starting to say they could come and help the team on the white paths of the fourth stage!
Juliette Labous‘ climbing skills coexist perfectly with her riding abilities. For example, she beat Audrey Cordon-Ragot and Aude Biannic in the French time trial championships in 2020. In 2021, Juliette Labous confirmed her ability to compete with the best in the time trial: 9th at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, then 6th at the World Championships in Bruges. The Flèche Wallonne is one of Juliette Labous‘ favourite events. In 2021, she finished 6th at the top of the Mur de Huy.
Juliette Labous (Team DSM)
Born 4 November 1998 at Besançon (France)
Teams: Sunweb (2017 to 2020), Team DSM (2021-2022)
Major results :
• 2014: French Cadette Road Champion
• 2015: French junior Time Trial champion, 4th in the European Junior Championship, French Junior Cyclo-Cross Champion.
• 2016: French Junior Time Trial and Road Race Champion, 3rd in the European and World Time Trial Championships.
• 2017: 4th overall Tour de Feminin
• 2018: French U23 Time Trial champion, 7th overall Tour de Yorkshire
• 2019: 1st Young Rider Classification Giro Rosa (11th overall), 3rd Overall Tour de Bretagne
• 2020: French Elite and U23 Time Trial Champion, 6th in the European Time Trial Championship, 8th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes
• 2021: 2nd overall Women’s Tour, 6th Flèche Wallonne Femmes and World Time Trial Championship, 7th overall Giro Rosa, 9th in the Tokyo Olympic Games Time Trial
• 2022: 1st overall Vuelta a Burgos, 5th overall Flèche Brabançonne, 11th overall Trofeo Binda and Amstel Gold Race, 12th overall Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes
Particular sign: Gifted at school, little Juliette Labous skipped a grade (CE1) and dreamed of becoming an astrophysicist. She had a map of the constellations projected onto her bedroom ceiling, and during clear nights, she observed the stars through a telescope.
• Paula Patiño (COL / Movistar Team Women)
• Marta Cavalli (ITA / FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope)
• Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (ZAF / Teams SD Worx)