Medal Tally Opens For SA Para Team In Italy 

South African Para-cyclists Justine Asher and Goldy Fuchs put on stellar performances at the opening round of the 2015 UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup to claim two gold medals and a bronze medal in Maniago, Italy, at the weekend.  The Italian Dolomites, characterised by their rugged grey scree slopes, starkly contrast the verdant landscape above which they tower.  In the transition region between the mountains and the agricultural lowlands are a series of small villages and towns, two of which were host to the first UCI Para-cycling World Cup event of the 2015 racing season.

The time trial, which was scheduled for the first day of the programme (5 June), had its start in the village of Sequals and its finish in the town of Maniago.  The shorter route of 12.5 km traversed fairly flat landscape, but presented technical complexities where it passed through the narrow streets of the villages of Alba and Campagna and in the cobblestone final section in Maniago.  The longer time trial route of 26.6 km included a steep climb up to the village of Solmbergo, followed by a series of alternating milder gradients where it passed through the villages of Cavassa Nuovo and Colle.

Hand-cyclist Asher, who claimed the 2014 World Cup series trophy, continued her winning streak by comprehensively beating her opponents and claiming the gold medal in her time trial.  Craig Ridgard, who is still experiencing his first 12 months of competing internationally, was first out of the starting box.  He rode an almost perfect time trial, finishing in 4th place.

The team’s tricyclists were next to get underway, with Goldy Fuchs claiming a well-deserved second fourth place for the team.  Fuchs has been training hard for the 2015 season focusing, inter alia, on handling his bike at speed through corners – with the effort having paid off.  Teammate Gerhard Viljoen slipped a cleat at the start of his race losing valuable seconds, but still managed to finish in eighth place.

Asher’s hand-cycling teammates, Ernst Van Dyk and Simon Makgobela (entered as an independent rider) competed in the final race of the day, finishing fifth and 11th respectively.  Acclaimed tricyclist, George Rex, suffered a serious mechanical equipment failure, which prevented him from finishing his time trial and from competing in the next day’s road race.  A tricycle’s dual-axle drive and coupling with the gear cassette is extremely complicated and, in Rex’s case, the scale of the equipment failure made it impossible to effect overnight repairs.

Cycling SA Para-cycling Commission Director, Dr. Mike Burns, commended the SA team management who juggled the overlapping tasks of getting the wheelchair riders to the start of their races, transporting their wheelchairs to the race finish in time (a different town), returning to set off different riders in turn, and more.  He says:  ‘Be assured, this was a major logistic exercise!’  The road race programme in Maniago got off to a good start on 6 June, with Fuchs claiming the bronze medal. Finding himself frequently boxed in at strategic moments, Viljoen managed a respectable 10th place finish.

Asher repeated her previous day’s performance by winning the gold medal in her road race and, in doing so, also accumulated maximum points for the competition – which earned her the Italian World Cup winners jersey.  Current road race World Champion Ernst van Dyk, with Simon Makgobela, started their race at the hottest time of the day in conditions that were not made easier by the blistering initial pace set by the Italian Alessandro Zanardi.  Unfortunately Van Dyk lost his chain on the cobblestone section of the circuit and needed neutral car assistance to get going again – resulting in a time gap of two minutes between him and the lead group.

He was never going to close this gap, but with team management and the USA team support providing split time information around the circuit, he was able to reduce the gap to 40 seconds for part of the race distance.  Makgobela, in his first international race rode extremely confidently and finished in 11th place, ahead of some far more experienced riders.  Craig Ridgard was the last SA rider to compete in the road race programme on Sunday 7 June.

Positioning himself perfectly throughout the race, Ridgard stood an excellent chance to claim at least the bronze medal in a sprint finish.  Approaching the final corner before the final cobblestone straight he was, however, boxed in by an Irish competitor and had to settle for a finish in a bunch of about 10 riders.  The final close scrutiny of the finish placed him in ninth position.

With some of the SA riders returning home after the Italian World Cup, Van Dyk, Ridgard and Makgobela now leave for Yverdon-les-Bains in Switzerland where they will be joined by their teammate Pieter Du Preez.  The team will compete there in the Swiss World Cup, which is scheduled for 14 to 16 June.