The final day (11 May) of the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup, hosted by Italy in the town of Castiglione della Pescaia, provided South African C3 rider Craig Ridgard the opportunity to compete in the road race against the world’s best riders in his class.
Ridgard was under no illusion regarding the competition he faced in the World Cup, particularly from the Russian riders against whom he had competed the previous week, when he claimed a bronze medal finish in the Verolanuova Cup.
The 80 km race could hardly have been more technical. It 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 circuit’s 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, Ridgard was happy to settle for a 14th place finish position, with the resolve to return to fight another day.
As could be anticipated, the hand-cycle relay race proved a massive draw-card for the local community of Castiglione della Pescaia - who were there to support their hometown hero World Champion and Paralympian gold medallist, Alessandro Zanardi. Also crowding the roadside were the several hundred riders and team support crews, relaxing after completing their World Cup competition programme. Amongst the chaos of setting up 14 three-rider teams, a semblance of order prevailed for only a split second as the relay race got underway.
Knowing that they did not have the winning combination of hand-cycling classes, the South African team (Stuart McCreadie, Justine Asher and Ernst Van Dyk) nevertheless gave it their best shot – using the opportunity mainly to gauge their sprint capabilities around the short 2.1 km race circuit. The acknowledgement from the crowds that they received for their efforts made their 11th place finish (out of 14 competing teams) feel almost as good as their best accomplishments during the preceding three days of the championships.
The team returns to South Africa with seven World Cup medals to their credit: 2 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze. This is probably the best World Cup achievement of any South African cycling 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.
Summary of results – UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup – Road Race (11 May)
Men C3 (10 laps - 81.3 km)
1 Roberto Bargna (ITA) 02:06:13
2 Arnaud George (Independent) +00:00:02
3 Alexey Obydennov (RUS) +00:02:05
14 Craig Ridgard (RSA) +00:07:32
Team Relay (19.8 km - 9 laps of 2.2km)
1 USA-1 [William Groulx H2 / William Lachenauer H3 / Alfredo de los Santos H5] 00:37:39,9
2 ITALY-1 [Pautaleo Sette H3 / Luca Mazzone H2 / Alessandro Zanardi H5] +00:00:23
3 BELGIUM [Jean Francois Deberg H3 / Christophe Hindricq H2 / Jonas van de Steene H4] +00:01:06
11 SOUTH AFRICA [Stuart McCreadie H3 / Jutine Asher H2 / Ernst van Dyk H5] -3 laps