By Mark Etheridge
Defending champion Ernst van Dyk had to settle for third in a sprint for the line in the wheelchair section of the Chicago Marathon on Sunday.
Van Dyk, who had crashed during his warm-up 10-kilometre event in Ottawa, Canada last week, ended behind American winner Josh George and Kurt Fearnley of Australia.
The winning time was 1hr 32min 12sec with Fearnley and Van Dyk both credited as being one second slower.
‘I’m pretty chuffed that I could pull a third place out of the hat in a field of this quality,’ Van Dyk told Road to Rio 2016. ‘It’s been a very long season for me and as I said last week earlier my prep was not where I normally like to have it.’
True to it’s name the Windy City provided tricky conditions from Mother Nature but there was a still a fast start to the race.
‘The strong winds kept the pack together all the way. I played it safe and kept myself positioned towards the front third of the pack which ran at around 15 racers for most of the way. There were a few surges thrown in by Kota Hokinoue from Japan and Josh Cassidy from Canada but I was able to close on those rather quick. Kurt covered me like a shadow and Josh stayed on his wheel for most of the race.’
With the windy conditions and the flat roads, it was difficult for any individual to launch an attack and split the pack. Van Dyk said: ‘We just kept the pace high and waited for the sting at the end. With about 3km to go I moved forward because in the last kilometre there is a sharp right into a very steep climb and then a fast left with a 200m dash for the line.
‘With this finish and a pack of this quality and size position was going to be everything. I found myself in the lead making that first right turn and attacked the hill as hard as I could. A local boy and brilliant climber, Josh slowed opened up a gap of around one chair length on me with Fearnley right on my wheel.
‘We made the final turn like that and I could not accelerate anymore. Fearnley pulled up next to me and just just got his front rim in front of me on the line.’
That saw yet another spectacular finish to 42.2km of top-end wheelchair racing. And despite his crash in Canada which could easily have dented his confidence, multi-Paralympian Van Dyk is in positive frame of mind before his final race of the season.
‘I take confidence out of this with the New York Marathon three weeks away and I’ll tweak a few things to see if I can perhaps end the season with another podium finish in the Big Apple.
‘If I can pull that off it will be my eighth podium finish in eight marathon starts in the last 24 months, competing in stacked fields in the four major marathons we have on our circuit.’