South Africa boasts some of para-cycling’s big names: Ernst van Dyk is a six-time Paralympian and multiple World Champion in the MH5 category, while Pieter du Preez (MH1) and Justine Asher (WH2) were recently crowned road race and time trial World Champions in Nottwil, Switzerland.
Although these three athletes may currently be the face of South African para-cycling, the fourth and final round of the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup in Pietermaritzburg could well unveil interesting new talents within the squad. With the event being held on home ground, South Africa is able to enter a larger than normal team, allowing up and coming athletes to gain experience in top-level international competition.
“This is a landmark occasion,” says Cycling South Africa’s Para-cycling Commission Director Mike Burns. “Over the years, the South African national team has had to criss-cross the globe in order to participate in UCI events, with all sorts of constraints on team size as well as logistic and budgetary challenges. For the first time, we don’t have to deal with these types of issues, or at least not to the same extent.”
Opportunities for more athletes
The Pietermaritzburg round of the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup from September 11 to 13 will therefore see a 15-strong squad racing in the South African colours. They will be up against the very best in the world, all of whom will be descending on the capital of KwaZulu-Natal in a bid to earn precious Paralympic qualification points for their respective nations.
In addition to the selected South African national team, other local riders can enter the UCI World Cup as independent riders, giving them an idea of what international racing is all about. Van Dyk, whose company sells and distributes handbikes, tries to help newcomers to the sport and set them in the right direction. He warns:
“In Pietermaritzburg they will see what it’s all about and see how fast these guys actually go”
Gaining experience and having the opportunity to rub shoulders with and talk to experienced athletes such as van Dyk is extremely important, according to Justine Asher, a relative newcomer to the sport.
“I joined a club to get pointed in the right direction. There is so much to learn,” she says. “I’ve just learned so much in the last two years and I’m still learning.”
Looking to Rio 2016
Mike Burns explains that South Africa’s aim in Pietermaritzburg is three-fold: to provide a development opportunity for the nation’s second-tier team, to secure more slots for South Africa at Rio 2016, and to continue to position the country’s first-tier riders.
It is all part of the bigger game plan, the ‘Team Preparation Plan for Rio 2016’ put in place the week after the national team’s return from the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
“This plan has directed almost every strategic decision made and goal set during the quadrennial,” says Burns. “An early priority was to expand the pool of internationally competitive riders in the national team, for example by imposing slightly less stringent team selection standards. The priority then shifted to high performance and a range of other support measures for the candidates most likely to be considered for selection to the national team for Rio 2016.”
The athletes have successfully met a series of intermediate competition goals that were set as milestones along the road to Rio, including podiums in UCI World Cups and UCI World Championships. All preparation and competitions have been carefully planned and assessed thanks to a High Performance programme led by the team’s HP Manager. Burns says:
“As the iconic South African golfer Gary Player once said: ‘The harder I train, the luckier I get.’ This is essentially our motto.”
The ‘Team Preparation Plan for Rio 2016’ aims to secure spots for four men and two women at Rio with a goal of taking home at least three medals.
“We are on track,” states the SA Para-cycling Commission Director.
Meanwhile, the local stars are looking forward to racing at home in the next round of the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup.
Pieter du Preez: “It’s such a beautiful area and the courses are really good. The time trial course is perfect for speed, and the road race includes a passage in the downtown Central Business District as well as some short climbs.
“It will be very exciting and will also give the local people a chance to come and watch and see what para-cycling is all about.”