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Para-cyclists make 2010 a year to remember

There is no doubt that South Africa’s para-cyclists are among the best in the world.

After their performance this year in international races Mike Burns, Cycling South Africa’s Director Paracycling, becomes quite excited when asked by Cycling SA to elaborate on 2010’s best achievements.

ÔÇ£Based on performance in UCI paracycling events during 2010, South Africa has produced eight paracyclists with top-10 UCI world rankings in their respective classes.

ÔÇ£Of these athletes, Roxy Burns is perhaps the most outstanding, with her UCI world ranking of first and fourth positions for track and road respectively. Equally impressive are the performances by Ernst van Dyk and Madre Carinus (road) and Jaco Nel (track), which earned each of them a third position in the UCI class world rankings for 2010,ÔÇØ a proud Burns explained.

According to him, apart from the Paralympics, medal results in the UCI Paracycling World Championships represent the pinnacle of achievement. There is, therefore, considerable pride within Cycling South Africa that Ernst van Dyk and Roxy Burns are both silver medallists after their participation in the most recent World Championship road and track events that were held at Baie Comeau (Canada) and Manchester (United Kingdom).ÔÇØ

During the UCI 2010 Paracycling World Cup held at Segovia, Spain, Ernst van Dyk won gold and silver medals for his time trial and road races respectively, and Madre Carinus finished second in her two road events.

For her individual performance in the Disability Grand Prix track championships in Newport, Wales, and the Six Day-Night Europa track championship in Kaarst, Germany (both UCI P1 events), Roxy Burns added to her 2010 medal tally by winning a total of three gold medals and one bronze.

Joining her on the podium at the Six Day-Night Europa championships was Jaco Nel, who won one silver medal and one bronze. The performance by the South African sprint team, comprising Janos Plekker, Stephan Herholdt and Roxy Burns, rounded off a remarkable 2010. The team won silver and bronze medals at the championships hosted by Wales and Germany, respectively. ÔÇ£

It was encouraging to note that there were new riders who started to make their presence felt internationally during 2010. Stuart McCreadie is one of the new stars. In spite of the fact that he had only been competing internationally for less than six months, Stuart came close to finishing within the top-ten in Canada.

Burns predicts that Stuart will be able to achieve a podium finish within the next year.

Krige Schabort is another hero of South African cycling. Competing for the first time in a UCI World Championships he finished in seventh position in both his time trial and road race events at Baie-Comeau.

A definite highlight was Krige winning a gold medal in the physically challenged section of the 2010 Iron Man World Championships held at Kona in Hawaii.

Remarkably, Krige beat the current UCI World Champion, Oscar Sanchez of the USA, in the handcycling section of the race.

Schabort said that it took him 10 months to prepare for the Ironman competition. ÔÇ£The weeks leading to the event were spent envisioning every part of the course.┬áMy goal was clear. I wanted to complete the 3.9km swim,180km cycle and 42km wheelchair marathon in 9 hours 30 minutes.

ÔÇ£At the starting line the canon sets you free to release the huge energy bank that you have saved up for that one moment.┬á It felt like swimming in a washing machine. The bike seemed to be going over hot lava fields forever, but I stayed on target as I monitored my progress every 5 kilometres.

ÔÇ£The hardest part was the marathon – extremely painful. I did not hold back until I crossed the finish line which was like leaping forward in time. I never thought that moment would arrive. I broke the course record by more than an hour, in a time of 9:26:04,ÔÇØ an elated Schabort wrote in an email.

One of the big problems with paracycling is that people don’t really understand the courage it takes to become a champion. Each of South Africa’s top paracyclists is living proof that, in spite of life’s setbacks, anything is possible as long as you are prepared to put in the long hours and refuse to give up.

When asked to elaborate on the disabilities of South Africa’s top paracyclists, Burns explained as follows: ÔÇ£Each member of the South African paracycling team has a physical disability or visual impairment, which places them in different UCI classes of functional cycling ability.

ÔÇ£For example, Ernst van Dyk, Krige Schabort and Stuart McReadie are classified as handcyclists, but they are grouped in different classes of handcycling. Ernst, who is functionally the strongest and has mostly lower limb disabilities, is classified as an H4 paracyclist and he rides on a kneeling handcycle.

ÔÇ£Krige, who lost both his legs at the hips, is functionally less strong than Ernst and is classified as an H3 paracyclist.┬á He rides on a recliner handcycle. Stuart, who suffered a spinal injury and has only upper torso control, is classified as an H2 paracyclist and, like Krige, rides on a recliner hand-cycle.

ÔÇ£Athletes such as Roxy Burns, Janos Plekker and Stephan Herholdt, suffer from physical disabilities that are connected to cerebral palsy, but they are capable of riding an ordinary bicycle and are classified as C4 paracyclists. Jaco Nel has a similar disability, but he is functionally the weakest and is classified as a C1 paracyclist. Madre Carinus, Riaan Nel and Gerhard Viljoen are all quite severely affected by cerebral palsy and they are classified as T2 paracyclists who ride on tricycles.ÔÇØ

What are the challenges faced by paracycling in South Africa?

ÔÇ£For decades, paracycling was administered by the South African Sports Association for the Physically Disabled. In response to instructions from the IPC and UCI, following the Beijing Paralympics, the administration of the sport is being integrated into the structures of the national federation, Cycling South Africa (CSA).

ÔÇ£During the two years that the integration process has been underway, CSA has provided a very welcoming environment for what is now a Paracycling Commission within the organisation.

One of the challenges faced by CSA is to provide financial resources for this commission, especially in the area of talent identification, development and transformation and high performance across all levels, i.e. schools for the physically disabled, clubs, regions and at the national level. Achievements by the national paracycling teams, as well as by iconic athletes such as Ernst van Dyk and Roxy Burns, should have a significant brand appeal for sponsors.┬á But this will only happen if an awareness of these achievements can be created by better publicity.ÔÇØ