The South African Para-cycling team ended the 2013 UCI Road World Cup series in a celebratory fashion in Matane, Canada, this past weekend. The country’s top performers for the year were George Rex, Roxy Burns and Justine Asher, who each claimed World Cup champion’s jerseys in their respective classes. This is the first time that any South African Para-cyclist has earned such an accolade; that three team members should achieve this in a single season is quite remarkable. Finishing not far behind their champion teammates in the World Cup series log were Ernst van Dyk, who finished second, and Stuart McCreadie and Yusthin Lintnaar who both finished 5th in their respective classes.
Explaining the team’s World Cup success for 2013 is a combination of athletic talent on the part of the riders, their 100% commitment to training and competing at the highest level and sound strategy in terms of the phased preparation of the South African team for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
The Matane World Cup provided the South African riders with a racing environment with which they were relatively familiar: good road surfaces and a circuit of moderate technical complexity. This was in contrast to conditions (cobblestones, narrow roads) in Italy and Spain during the early part of the racing season races, which proved challenging to the riders but not beyond their capacity to adapt.
Riding his new aerodynamically optimised hand-cycle, current H4 World Champion Ernst van Dyk claimed the gold medal in the road race in Matane, beating Paralympian gold medallist Alessandro Zanardi in a tight sprint finish. Building on his silver medal successes in Europe, T1 rider George Rex won gold in his time trial event. Rex was set up nicely to repeat this performance in his road race, but had to settle for a 3rd place finish when an accident in front of him made it necessary to take evasive action.
H2 hand-cyclist Stuart McCreadie rode an excellent time trial, finishing in 6th place behind a group of perennially strong riders, most of whom benefit from the European hand-cycling league series that is not easily accessible to southern hemisphere riders. Using his time trial performance as a foundation, McCreadie went on to achieve a personal best 5th place finish in the road race.
Managing a niggling stomach ailment, Justine Asher produced a very respectable time trial performance, finishing 2nd in her H1 hand-cycling class, not far behind the American World Champion. Without time to recover her health, Asher struggled in the road race, but did enough to secure her the points necessary to claim the 2013 World Cup series champion jersey. There is no doubt that with each race in which she competes, the experience brings her closer to the gold medal finishes on which she has set her sights.
Roxy Burns, who is one of South Africa’s top track Para-cyclists, used the UCI World Cup road series to build her strength and stamina in preparation for the 2013/14 UCI track racing season. This gets underway at the end of November with a P1 event in Wales. As for Justine Asher and George Rex, her performances in both the time trial and road race in Matane enabled her to secure the 2013 World Cup series champion jersey for C4 women.
The South African Para-cycling team has crossed the Gulf of St Lawrence to its north bank, to the town of Baie-Comeau where the UCI 2013 road World Championships are currently under way, from 29 August – 1 September. The riders are confident, but not casually so, that they will do well in this grand finale for 2013.