Big money for para-cy­cles in Rio

BRAD MOR­GAN looks at the in­vest­ment top para-cy­clers make to stay on par

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

PHOTO: DAR­REN GOD­DARD

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.

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