By Mark Etheridge
Boston Marathon wheelchair legend Ernst van Dyk continued to fine tune his race preparations in Portugal on Sunday with fourth place in a hotly contested half-marathon.
The South African athlete is a nine-time winner of the Boston Marathon, his first coming in 2001 and he’ll be hunting a 10th title next month before crossing continents for another bash at the London Marathon.
As is often the case, each race features a unique challenge and Lisbon was no different at the weekend.
“It was ‘interesting’ to say the least Paarl based Van Dyk (pictured right) told Road to Rio 2016. “Two days before the race the mayor decided to change the course and take us over two kilometres of cobble stones. Not so much of an an issue for the runners (although two elite runners did twist their ankles!) but it causes havoc for wheelchairs.
“I took the lead right off the gun and set a fast pace which reduced the pack to five of us. After about 8km (I pulled for about 5km) Switzerland’s Heinz Frei put in a huge surge.
“I took a bit too long to respond (not being that sharp just yet) and got dropped by about 10m. I however fought back to them and by halfway we were all together again.”
The field then tackled a 10km stretch into the teeth of a hectic headwind and, by and large, the field stayed together and it was during this stretch that Van Dyk picked up some mechanical problems.
“I realised that the section on the cobbles had vibrated one of my wheels loose and it was rubbing against my chair frame and causing some resistance.”
There was more drama to come at the front end of the field. “At the final turning point race favourite, Marcel Hug from Switzerland, attacked but he got the corner wrong and crashed so we were then down to two┬á Spanish guys and Frei fighting it out for the last 2km.”
That wasn’t the only fight on Van Dyk’s hands. “However with the wheel rub getting worse I was draining fast and did not have much left for the sprint so I ended fourth.” But he was still relatively pleased with his turn-out. “Our time of 44min 35sec was very fast for a flat half-marathon going over 2km of cobbles which slowed our speed to pedestrian pace.”
Summing up ÔÇô “It was a good trip and it highlighted where I still have to work over the last 14 days before heading to Boston followed by London.”