I’ve mentioned before how I can’t believe that there have been no Track Paracycling World Championships or even World Cups since before the 2012 Paralympics, and none on the calendar for 2014 yet, but now I’ve been to live Paracycling, I’m even more amazed, because damn, Paracyling is so entertaining and fun to watch!
I knew that, of course, from the Paralympic tv coverage, but just like the first time I went to an able-bodied Track World Cup, seeing it in real life is a different thing altogether.
Lora Turnham and Corrine Hall racing Henrike Handrup & Ellen Heiney
I was gutted that we missed the Saturday sessions, because Sunday’s were spectacular – all the B/VI tandem sprinting, the men’s kilo time trial, the women’s 3km Individual Pursuit, and the men’s 10km C4/5 Scratch race.
Tandem sprinting is just spectacular to watch. It’s all the same tactics as individual sprinting, with tactics and mind-games, feinting and skilful bike-handling, and top speeds, but on a tandem! It took me a while to stop freaking out, because how those riders didn’t crash, faking each other out and stopping immediately to swoop down and around, or cutting each other up is beyond me. I was gasping and covering my eyes, and cheering and clapping, and loved every moment of it.
One of the things I really loved about the meet was how warm and supportive everyone was to each other. There was this little moment when the British pair, Sophie Thornhill & Rachel James beat Dutch riders Larissa Klaasen & Kim van Dijk, and while it was hard-fought in the race, there was this moment after they finished their wind-down laps, when both pairs reached out, congratulating each other on a brilliant duel, acknowledging each other’s strength. I loved getting to see that, and I heard about it all day from riders’ families in the stands, how the Paracycling world is like a family, everyone supporting and respecting everyone else.
In the stands it was all about family feeling, with a lot of the audience made up of riders’ family and friends and riders who’d finished their racing, and this made things really warm and welcoming, with riders’ parents more than happy to chat and tell you stories about their kid, but also to cheer for other riders they’ve got to know over the years. I bonded with a couple of riders’ mums cheering for Tom Staniford who we all knew from twitter, and who had been really friendly to one of their sons at a British Cycling selection day, and we loved the Jon Gildea fan-club of extended family and friends, all in their matching t-shirts that spelt “Jonny Go!” but only if they could get them all in the same place at the same time. And getting to cheer for riders I’ve talked to on twitter – Tom, and USA sprinter Jennifer Schuble, who won a silver & bronze at London 2012, and superstar Jody Cundy, and other legends of the Paralympics and World Championships, including (but not limited to!) Aileen McGlynn, Jiri Jezek, Darren Kenny, Shaun McKeown, Alfonso Cabello Llamas and Sarah Storey, who was riding her first race since winning four golds at the London Paralympics and giving birth to her daughter earlier in the year (there’s a video interview with Storey talking about how that feels, on the BBC Sports website)
Jennifer Schuble, waiting to start the C5 3km Individual Pursuit
Sarah Storey, riding to win the C5 3km Individual Pursuit
My regret for the day was that I kept getting swept up in the excitement of the racing, or with the opportunities to take photos around the banking, so kept missing the final sprints and run-ins to the finish. When Jody Cundy broke the C4 kilometre TT World Record, and when he attacked off the front of the C4/5 men’s 10km Scratch race in the final laps, I was cheering and yelling (and probably physically jumping up and down) because it was such exciting riding. The commentating really helped with this – Chris Furber was the British Cycling lead coach for the Beijing and London Paralympics, so he really knew his stuff, and had that combination of knowledge and enthusiasm and humour that made it so easy to get into every race.
Alyda Norbruis, ready to start the C3 3km Individual Pursuit
All of that is a tl;dr way of saying if there’s ever track Paracycling near you, go and see it. And if you look for Paracycling events in your country and can’t find them, ask your National Federation why – and what they and the UCI are doing about the lack of World Cups and World Championships for the riders. It will be a travesty if the next international competition is a hurriedly pulled-together World Championships in 2016 put on to provide qualification points for the Rio Paralympics. Colin Lynch wrote a great Open Letter to the UCI about all this – please click through and read it – and Jody Cundy and Sarah Storey have some great quotes about the lack of events and the UCI’s rôle, on the BBC website just before the event, please read that, too!
I was taking photos with the “wrong” equipment, a fixed 50mm lens rather than a fast sporty zoomy one with a flash, just to see if I could, so if you want to look at my photos, head over to my flickr set, but apologies for those lack of crucial race moment shots. There are some proper photos on British Cycling’s (unsurprisingly) Brit-focused reports from Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3. If you want to know more about some of the women in Paracycling, I wrote two “Celebrating Social Media” posts before the Paralympics last year, here and here.