Para-Cycling - Where athleticism and inspiration meet
Athletes from around the globe competed at the UCI Para-Cycling Open in Greenville, USA.
Fighting back tears of joy, but not succeeding, a rider told me, “I’m happy for my victory. My victory is for my mom, sister, my family, and my president. They gave me my power.”
He went on to tell me how in the final meters of the race there was some contact between him and another rider, which almost knocked him down. However he remained upright and sprinted to the win.
Another rider who lives in the Greenville area and has the advantage of knowing the parcours talked about how the course suited a rider who could generate a lot of power. “I’m more of a climber,” explained the slightly-built rider.
I heard stories of tactics and alliances. Technology was all over the place from aero-helmets to wheels, carbon fiber designed machines to electronic shifting. One rider told me how his equipment via an onboard computer was constantly making calculations so he could perform at his optimum.
Racers and coaches in matching team kits huddled together in post-race briefings figuring out what went right or wrong during the race.
In the background announcers called the action letting the crowd know who was crossing the finish line as well as giving time splits. A famous and recently retired professional cyclist dropped by to show his appreciation.
Competing were one hundred riders from eight different countries - each with their own story.
I was doing my usual job at a finish line of a UCI bike race, gathering post-race riders’ interviews, taking photos, and sleuthing out stories. But this wasn’t Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I was in my hometown of Greenville, South Carolina at the UCI Para-Cycling Open.
This event was the only UCI para-cycling race on the American racing calendar and the first time since 2009 that there had been a UCI para-cycling race in the States. The race is open to anyone with defined disabilities such as blind or visually impaired, cerebral palsy, amputees, and wheelchair athletes. Some rode tandems as a stoker, handcycles which they propelled with their arms, or adapted bicycles which would allow them to shift and brake with one hand. The athletes competed against others who have the same type of disability.
Throughout the weekend on the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (known to us locals as ICAR) the athletes competed in the time trial and the next day in a road race. If “ICAR” seems somewhat familiar, for the past seven years the US Professional Time Trial Championships have been held on at this location. The para-cycling organization utilized much of the same course for their time trial and road race.
The Greenville UCI Open event was a test race for the 2014 Para-Cycling World Championships that are going to use the same course. During the past weekend over one hundred athletes from eight different countries came to South Carolina to compete. Among the medals and flowers were examples of people who faced physical challenges and didn’t let that define them. Instead they conquered and overcame.
Much like their professional able-bodied counterparts these riders have Olympic aspirations. Venezuelan