The road race performance of the South African para-cycling team, competing in the UCI Basque Road World Cup, picked up where things ended after the competition’s time trial the previous day.
Rider athleticism and stamina were the main ingredients for a great day’s racing, on 16 July, in the Wold Cup’s host village of Ellorio. The road race circuit included a nice balance of climbing sections and fast, technically relatively easy downhill grades; however, the positioning of the finish line just after a short, steep climbing section, which then flattened out into a 200-metre sprint strip, created conditions for exciting finishes to most races on the day.
Justine Asher extended her 2016 season of world class performances by lapping her main competition and easily claiming gold with a margin of 24 minutes. She felt very strong from the start and quickly built up an unassailable lead. Combined with her time trial performance of the previous day, Asher believes she has the necessary competition experience for 2016 to now begin the peaking and tapering processes in preparing for the Rio Paralympic Games, which are scheduled for September.
South Africa’s two T2 tricyclists, Goldy Fuchs and Gerhard Viljoen, contributed to one of the most exciting races of the day. Fuchs, a strong climber, employed a breakaway tactic from the start, using the circuit’s long initial climbing section to maximum advantage. This forced his competitors to chase him down for the remainder of the race. Compatriot Viljoen, and the Czech rider David Vondracek, closed the race leader’s advantage to just 9 seconds towards the end of the race, as the competition ended with an exhausting uphill grind and final sprint finish. Viljoen claimed the bronze medal, finishing less than a bike’s length behind the 2nd placed Czech rider. Having two South African flags flying above the awards podium, with the country’s national anthem echoing off the ancient Basque stone buildings enclosing the town’s main plaza, was a stirring moment that was appreciated by not only the South African team, but also the many spectators who had gathered to watch the day’s races. In addition to his gold medal, Fuchs was announced the 2016 World Cup series T2 champion, with Viljoen finishing with a 2nd place World Cup ranking for the year. This is a remarkable 1,2 achievement.
Previous World Champion hand-cyclist, Ernst van Dyk, put in a big effort in the H5 road race. Van Dyk was forced to do all of the hard work up-front, with by the Portuguese rider Luis-Miguel Costa, having drafted throughout. Similar to the preceding tricycle race, the competition finished with an exciting sprint, easily won by van Dyk who claimed the gold medal – and, thereby, also the title of 2016 World Cup series H5 champion.
The South African team now packs up and heads for home to begin final preparations for the Rio Paralympics. The Basque World Cup results, which include 6 gold medals and 1 bronze, provided an excellent opportunity for the riders to gauge their current level of competition readiness for Rio and to trouble-shoot any areas of their Paralympic preparation plans where attention may be needed. The riders and support team were outstanding and leave Spain with pride, having demonstrated to he world that South Africa is one of the greatest para-cycling nations.
Written by Dr Mike Burns, Cycling SA Para-cycling Commission Director