The South African road para-cycling team has arrived in Basque Country, Spain, where the final UCI World Cup of 2016 will be hosted from 15 – 17 July.
The team is accommodated in the beautiful city of Bilbao, situated on the shores of the Bay of Biscay, semi-enclosed by forested hill country. Similar to its proudly independent Basque population, the city has a distinctive character that has little in common with the rest of Spain. The architectural statement made by the city’s Guggenheim Museum (a short walk from the team’s hotel) speaks volumes in this regard.
Although inspired by the unusual beauty of Bilbao, the greater inspiration for the South African team is the opportunity that the Basque World Cup provides in terms of rider preparation for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. The team includes two riders nominated for selection to the Rio team, Justine Asher and Ernst van Dyk, as well as Rio reserve rider, Gerhard Viljoen. They are accompanied by South African independent rider, Goldy Fuchs, who is also a nominated rider for Rio.
The final event of the 2016 UCI World Cup series, which included the very successful event hosted by the city of Pietermaritzburg, in May, and the Belgian World Cup, held in early June, is not about extracting ultimate performances from the world’s top riders; the far greater priority of peaking in Rio later in the year prohibits this. Rather, it provides a critical opportunity for candidate Paralympian riders to establish their current levels of competitiveness building up to Rio, to test out and fine-tune equipment, technique and tactic and to trouble-shoot in whatever areas demand this.
In a creative way, the event organisers have spread the Basque World Cup races around the region, with Bilbao at the epi-centre. The time trial (15 July) will be hosted by the town of Vitoria Gasteiz, while the road races will be hosted by the towns of Elorrio (on 16 July, for handcyclists and tri-cyclists) and Mungia (17 July, for C-class riders). The two key dates for the South African team are 15 and 16 July.
The Basque World Cup signals the penultimate competition experience for the South African team for 2016. In September, it will be followed by the Rio Paralympics – for which the country’s para-cycling discipline has had a 4-year strategic plan in place. The plan has as its central aim, a medal target that is expected to be achieved; however, as the saying goes, “the journey is (almost) as important as the destination”. Over the past 4 years, in the build up to Rio, the country’s national teams have achieved and exceeded all of the strategic goals that were defined for the quadrennial: multiple UCI World Champions, male and female World Cup series winners (at least 6 for 2016 alone), heaps of gold, silver and bronze World Cup and World Championship medals and, respect earned from international peers who appreciate how far above its weight South Africa punches in terms of para-cycling performances and achievements.