Our para-cyclists wrapped up their UCI World Cup event in Italy on Sunday with participation in two races, writes Mark Etheridge.
The team will also be wrapping up a total of seven medals in their home-coming luggage after an extremely satisfying campaign in the town of Castiglione della Pescaia.
The first race of the day saw international debutant Craig Ridgard taking on the world’s best C3 riders. And riding solo it was was always going to be an uphill struggle against countries with more than one competitor in the 80-kilometre mix.
Says SA team manager Mike Burns: “The race could hardly have been more technical and was also tailor-made for a three-rider team, such as the Russians, to rotate roles in blocking the bunch and breaking away at corners and the circuits narrowest sections, demanding the following bunch to chase over and over in an effort to catch up.
“Recognising that the dice were heavily loaded against him, Craig was happy to settle for a 14th-placed finish, with the resolve to return to fight another day.”
The competition came to a close with the hand-cycle race as the crowds turned out in their droves to support Italian Alex Zanardi, 2012 Paralympic gold medallist, who has a holiday home in the town.
The locals were joined by several hundred riders and team support crews who were already done with their competitions.
A total of 14 three-rider teams were part of the organised chaos the green and gold represented by Stuart McCreadie, Justine Asher and Ernst van Dyk.
The team were all too aware that they were up against it from the get-go. “They nevertheless gave it their best shot using the opportunity mainly to gauge their sprint capabilities around the short 2.1 km race circuit,” says Burns.
“The acknowledgement from the crowds that they received for their efforts made their 11th place finish feel almost as good as their best accomplishments during the preceding three days of the championships.
Burns and the team will return in buoyant mood after the three days of competition which brought two gold, three silver and two bronze medals as reward.
“This is probably the best World Cup achievement of any South African cycling team competing in a UCI event of this status hosted internationally. It is an achievement that provides great motivation for the team as they prepare for the forthcoming Spanish World Cup (July) and World Championships (August/September) later this year.”