Big money for para-cycles in Rio
BRAD MORGAN looks at the investment top para-cyclers make to stay on par
WITH six gold medals, including time trial and road race victories for Justine Asher and Pieter du Preez, Team South Africa shone at the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup in Pietermaritzburg over the weekend.
The event featured many big name stars from the world of para-cycling as the athletes made use of a final opportunity to secure UCI rankings points for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games, while for a good number of the South African team it served as an introduction to international competition.
With six golds, one silver and three bronze medals, South Africa finished fourth on the medal table, trailing only the U.S., Germany and Australia.
That position accurately reflects the country’s standing in world para-cycling, SA team manager Mike Burns told Wheels.
That makes the team’s leading competitors legitimate medal contenders, even possible champions, for the Paralympics.
Four of its members — Justine Asher, Pieter du Preez, Ernst van Dyk, and George Rex — are on the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee’s (Sascoc) Operation Excellence (Opex) programme.
Van Dyk won road race gold in Pietermaritzburg, but had his time trial chances of victory undone by a mechanical, while Rex picked up two bronze medals.
Goldy Fuchs claimed the team’s other gold medal in the road race, and also won a bronze in the time trial.
“We’re very grateful for the support,” Burns said, which includes travel expenses, coaching fees, medical aid and a subsistence allowance.
However, for South Africa to move into the top three nations in world para-cycling would take a huge investment from the corporate sector.
Equipment, so vital to the para-athletes, is not provided by Sascoc.
That’s why 2006 Laureus Sportsperson of the Year with Disability, Van Dyk, a gold medallist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and silver medal winner in the road race in 2012 in London, has invested a massive R300 000 of his own money to have a custom-made carbon-fibre bike built by an aerodynamics specialist for the Paralympics. The move is in response to former Formula One driver Italian Alex Zanardi, the gold medallist from London, whose move to para-cycling after he lost both legs in a racing accident, resulted in a significant move towards more technologically advanced hand cycles.
“Hopefully I will get my new bike later this year, so I will, at least, have the off-season to work with it and prepare for next year,” Van Dyk said in a recent interview with Wheels.
“What we know about Rio now is that it is going to be a very flat course. For the next few months, all the focus will be towards aerodynamics and high power output. The time trial is going to be about how fast you can go, and how hard you can go, for how long.”
Explaining his decision to spend so much of his own money, Van Dyk, who reckoned the Rio Paralympics will probably be his seventh and last, said:
“The way I look at it is: what is the point to do all the sacrifice, and to do all training, when you know that on the starting line you are going to be lacking technologically? That takes you out of the equation for the gold medal. The decision I took was tough for my family.
“It was tough for us to spend that much cash on a bike, but it is all for Rio and hopefully it will come with success.”
South African team manager Mike Burns said he has been seeking a big sponsorship for some time from the corporate world to back South Africa’s world class para-cycling athletes, but he has not enjoyed any major successes yet.
He, nonetheless, remains optimistic that an insightful backer could make all the difference to the country’s para-cyclists and be well rewarded by those athletes winning titles on the World Cup, World Championships and Paralympics stages.
Showing the grit and equipment required to compete at top level as a para-cyclist, Ernst van Dyk competed in the World Cup in Pietermaritzburg over the weekend, passing by Midmar Dam.