For the majority of cyclists, racing competitively in wet, treacherous rainy conditions would be enough to raise the senses of fear and adrenalin. The experience and privilege, on Sunday (08/05), however of watching Para-cyclists from across the globe racing for gold and also for points to keep Rio Olympic dreams and hopes alive, was not only invigorating and challenging, but instilled immense respect and sheer admiration for these incredible athletes who will stop at nothing to achieve both personal and team honours.
The road races kicked off in the unrelenting rain with the Hi-H2 hand cycles and the trikes competing in between two to six laps of the 6.5-kilometre circuit. Poland’s Rafal Mikolajczyk claimed the victory in the Men H1 race in 01:33:01, while Israeli Yaakov Kobi Lion won the H2 race in 01:25:06. World Champion Justine Asher continued her fine form to win the Women’s H2 race in 01:07:19 with Poland claiming yet another victory when Renata Kaluza won the H3 race in 01:06:51. Gold Fuchs claimed his second gold medal of the event with a solid victory over compatriot Gerhard Viljoen in the T2 tricycle race, while Jay Lapointe (USA) and Toni Mould (RSA) claimed top UCI points in their respective T1 races.
After the short break, the Men’s H3, H4 and H5 classes took to the streets in their eight-lap races totalling 49.20 kilometres on the wet and technical course. The man to beat in the H4 race was Polish World Champion Rafal Wilk who displayed dominance from the get go, taking the lead and never looking back. His impressive performance saw him claim the gold medal by five minutes over second placed compatriot Arkadiusz Skrzypinski.
Skrzypinski spoke highly of his African experience despite the poor racing weather conditions. “I’ve had a fantastic week here, training in the sun, eating the world's best beef and tasting some very good wine. Unfortunately, the weekend weather was not the best, which is probably what deterred the fans. 2016 is the year of the Olympic Games so unfortunately, many teams decided to save money and did not participate here, but I loved the hard racing, and there were many fantastic athletes here. Rafal won both his races and I finished second twice – I’m very happy and our preparations for Rio are going well.”
South African sporting icon, Ernst van Dyk, blitzed the 49.20-kilometre race and claimed the gold medal in the H5 race against Portugal’s Luis Miguel Costa by three-and-a-half minutes. Van Dyk made a break as he powered up the hill on the third lap, dropping Costa and snapping the elastic band. By the fourth lap he had already created a cushion of 40 seconds. “I started a bit slower to get into the groove of things so I rode with the other guys and warmed up a bit. I managed to get a gap on Luis Costa and pushed the pace as fast as I could and tried to lift my average speed. The conditions were rough with lots of gravel and it was wet and you couldn't easily see the potholes, but that’s racing and you have to make the most of it. After I got away, I basically rode a six-lap Time Trial, it was tough but I am happy with the win and my performance.”
Fellow South African, Stuart McCreadie, added to the excitement in the H3 event when he launched his attack on the final lap and managed to break away from Austrian Walter Ablinger to seal the victory by over a minute. McCreadie made a break earlier in the race and put in a significant gap of 40-50 metres, but Ablinger reeled him in again. He then attacked on the last lap where it counted and made a significant break to take the victory. “We pulled ahead a little bit and worked together for six or seven laps and then it was everyone for himself on the last lap. I’m happy with how it went,” he said.
Declan Slevin (IRL) and Edward Maalouf (LIB) were also locked in a battle throughout the H3 race. It was Slevin who won the battle and rounded out the podium.
The Men and Women’s tandem races were won by the Irish pairing of Damien Vereker and Marcin Mizgajski, and Adamantia Chalkiadaki and Argyro Milaki from Greece respectively.
The C-class races ended off the day’s racing in extremely wet conditions as the rain continues to fall throughout the late afternoon. American Matthew Bigos won the 61.5-kilometre C1 race in 01:43:03, while South African Craig Ridgard secured the win in the C2 race by nearly a minute and Juan Odendaal claimed top UCI points in the C3 race.
Competing in 11 laps (67.70 kilometres), Slovakian Jozef Metelka found success once again after dominating the Time Trial the previous day as well. “Yesterday’s TT was successful for me and I really enjoyed the track. I thought it would be the same track as last year but it was the road race track. I enjoyed it – it was a little bit different but fortunately for me I didn’t puncture so I could fight for the gold and was very happy to get it at the end. I had to pedal up the hill and push it more and then keep the speed on the flat, so it was perfect. The weather was really good for me, as I don’t enjoy the heat. Today’s race was awesome; it started really well and I tried to power it more and more and on the fourth or fifth lap I pushed it to see where it would take me and fortunately it took me to first place,” he said.
Frenchman Dorian Foulon won the 67.70km C5 race in 01:40:18, while South Africans Vicky Scheepers and Estelle van der Merwe scored maximum points in their C4 and C5 races respectively.
SASCOC (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) Executive Committee Member, Merrill King, spoke about her experience of the Para-cycling Road World Cup. “It is such an emotional leveller – you see people who have come up against incredible odds and they are out there doing things with their bodies that some of us don’t even embark on. To get themselves from all over the world, like Poland and Austria, to get to South Africa doesn't come without its own set of challenges and they go out there with such courage. Everyone is so supportive of our three major sports in the country, yet they should be lining the streets to support these amazing athletes at this world-class event right here in Pietermaritzburg. I’m incredibly humbled by all of these athletes.”
Cycling South Africa’s President, William Newman, said that the Federation was very proud to be hosting another Para-cycling Road World Cup event. “Following from last year’s event, this has once again been very inspirational and a huge success and it’s great to get the support from the City of Pietermaritzburg and the Department of Sport and Recreation KwaZulu-Natal in hosting events like this. We are grateful that they are our partners.
“It’s a very important event for our riders because it gave more local riders a chance to participate in an international event, which is a positive aspect of our sport as we are creating international opportunities for our riders. And for our Olympic hopefuls, it is great preparation as they can gauge where they are with their planning and their fitness at the Para World Cup. Not even the weather has detracted from the quality of the event and the quality of the racing here this weekend. Well done to everyone!”
Pietermaritzburg played host to the 2015 and 2016 UCI Para-cycling Road World Cups and next year will host the blue ribbon event – the 2017 UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships where the best of the best will all be in attendance for a chance to claim the World Championship title in the streets of Pietermaritzburg. More information and full results can be found here: http://www.cyclingsa.com/2016-uci-para-road-world-cup/.