Our small team of para-cyclists have started the long qualifying road to the Rio Paralympics in style, writes Mark Etheridge.
Three of our leading cyclists are currently in Verolonuoava, Italy ahead of the season’s first World Cup event in a weeks’ time.
And, taking part in the Verolanuova Cup, the SA competitors all got on to the podium, for two gold medals and a bronze.
Leading into the 2016 Rio Paralympics each rider point earned will have significant implications as to the size of the team that eventually makes up the cycling contingent of Team South Africa.
Representing South Africa in Italy are Ernst van Dyk, George Rex (pictured right) and newcomer Craig Ridgard.
Manager is Mike Burns, father of Paralympian cyclist Roxy, who recently returned from World Track Championships in Mexico.
“The Verolanuova Cup programme got underway with a Criterium event in which all of the handcycling classes competed. The race in which Ernst was entered extended over 75 minutes (plus one lap) and started at 9pm.
“Initially, a snake of about six recumbent H4 riders positioned themselves ahead of van Dyk and his H5 competitors (all riding kneeling handbikes), making overtaking difficult, especially in the poorly lit racing conditions. Ernst and the Dutch rider Yetzi Platz eventually exploited this situation by getting ahead of the recumbent riders, whilst leaving another H5 podium hopeful, Johan Reekers, stuck in the slow(ish) traffic. For the final 20 minutes it was a tense race between van Dyk and Platz, with the South African eventually winning by 1.5 bike lengths in a sprint finish.”
Next in action was Rex, one of the worlds’ most competitive tricylist riders and, not to be outdone by team mate Van Dyk’s performance of the previous evening, he Rex rode a perfect road race, also winning a gold medal.
Says Burns: “The plan, which was to give his competitors a false sense of advantage over the first quarter of the race distance and to then attack, break away and get too far ahead to be caught, worked perfectly. This was in spite of Rex having technical problems with his trike just before the race started, which resulted in him not being able to use his large blade.”
Saturday’s C3 men’s road race was without doubt the most exciting of the morning, according to Burns with no quarter asked and none given by any of the competing riders. “With the race maintained at a blistering pace, Craig rode incredibly well. He never let the lead group get away and in his challenge for a podium finish eventually claimed the bronze medal.
“Craig proved that where natural athletic talent allows, a first-time competitor in an international event can make it onto the podium. His achievement brings the South African medal tally to three-from-three-from-one (the road race event) thus far, probably the best ratio of medals won to size of team entered for the Verolanuova Cup.”
Sunday sees the South Africans competing in the time trial, in which they are again expected to perform well. Thereafter, the team leaves for Tuscany, where they will meet up with their other team mates to compete in the World Cup in Castiglione della Pescaia.