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The United States has long had a strong presence in women’s cycling. Riders such as Kristin Armstrong, Evie Stevens, and Georgia Gould have all found success in the sport. But rarely have so many women reached the top level at the same time.
Now, a new generation of American women has ascended to the top ranks of cycling. They race on the road, fly up dirt climbs on a mountain bike, and endure long days of gravel racing. They’re here, and they’re ready to take names. This crew of cycling rockstars are crushing in cycling right now, and look set up to dominate for a number of years to come. Here’s who to keep your eyes on.
In 2018, Kate Courtney became the first American woman to win a world cross-country mountain bike title since Alison Dunlap in 2001. The 23-year-old started riding mountain bikes on the back of her father’s tandem in Marin, California. In high school, she began racing with her school’s NICA team and has shown no signs of slowing down ever since.
This past season, Courtney proved that her 2018 World Championship title was far from a fluke when she began the year with three straight World Cup race victories. With an early lead in the battle for the World Cup overall prize, Courtney’s form dipped through the middle of the season, but her mental toughness and determination kept her in the running. In September, she secured the coveted World Cup overall by a slim margin over Swiss talent Jolanda Neff. With her consistent successes over the past seasons, Courtney is among the favorites to win gold at the 2020 Olympic Games.
The 2019 World Time Trial champion, Chloé Dygert is a force. Until recently, the 22-year-old was perhaps best known for her stellar results in track racing. And no wonder: She’s the current world record holder in the three-kilometer pursuit and has won six World titles in track racing. At the Rio Olympics, she won a silver medal as a member of the U.S. team pursuit squad. Dygert credits her success to her ability to dig deep and push her body to the limits and beyond.
Dygert missed much of last year due to injury and struggled to come back into form this year. But if this is a bad year for Dygert, then watch out. At the Colorado Classic in August, Dygert swept all four stages and won the overall. Then at the 2019 World Championships, she became the youngest woman ever to win the time trial. Four days later, she rode to a fourth place finish in the elite road race. In 2020, Dygert hopes to race the track, time trial, and road race at the Tokyo Olympics. After that, she’ll decide whether to hit the road racing circuit in Europe or maintain her focus on the track and time trial events. Whatever she decides, Dygert looks very comfortable on that top step of the podium.
The new Junior World Road Race champion, Megan Jastrab started racing BMX at age eight. She and her brother Ryan jammed around town on their mother’s old Schwinn until she saved up enough money to buy a bike of her own. At 12, Jastrab completed a 65-mile bike tour around Apple Valley, California, where she grew up. Racing was an obvious next step to her, and in 2016, she turned heads by winning the sprint for second in the criterium stage at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. She was 15 at the time and racing on junior gears.
With more racing opportunities available to her, Jastrab’s talent has begun to shine this year. At Junior Nationals, the 17-year-old won both the road race and time trial. She’s also found success in Europe with a win at the junior version of the Trofeo Alfredo Binda World Cup in Italy. On the cobbles in Belgium, she finished second at the junior race at Gent-Wevelgem. This year marked the first time Jastrab was eligible to compete for the Junior World Championship title—and she won it. Her late-race attack showed her tactical savvy and iron nerves, essential qualities for a successful road racer.
With just over three years of riding in her legs, part-time barista Amity Rockwell won the 2019 Dirty Kanza 200. Widely considered one of the most challenging gravel races in the world, Dirty Kanza attracts a stacked field of riders, and the 2019 field included former pro road racer Olivia Dill and gravel specialist Alison Tetrick. The tough-as-nails 26-year-old powered through over 12 hours on the bike, survived two crashes, and weathered intense stomach issues that kept her from eating for the final hours of the race.
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Though relatively new to cycling, Rockwell is a former ultra-runner. She raced cross-country in high school and college, before shifting her focus to trail running. Rockwell kept a bike around and used it for training but never considered making cycling her one and only. A series of injuries changed her mind. In 2016, she rode her first road race and won it. The community that surrounds gravel riding appealed to Rockwell, and she did DK200 for the first time in 2018. Though mechanicals derailed her, Rockwell had discovered her place in the sport.
Before she could ride a bicycle, Schmidtmann learned to ride a motorcycle at four years old. Her first attempt was not especially successful, but she got straight back up and tried again. That resilience and adventurous spirit has served Schmidtmann well as a cyclist. By age nine, Schmidtmann began riding bikes and fell in love with everything that rolls on two wheels.
Now, the 18-year-old rides for the Lux Development Team, the same setup that produced the 2019 U23 World Champion, Quinn Simmons. At age 13, she began winning road races and has ridden just about every discipline in cycling, from BMX to track racing. This summer, she was one of the youngest riders to compete at the Colorado Classic. Schmidtmann believes her generation of riders will surprise the cycling world with strength and determination that equals their male peers. “We can be badasses, too,” she says.