The Mistral wind that made things difficult for the Tour de France riders climbing Mont Ventoux on Thursday (14 July) made itself felt, equally uncomfortably, at Vitoria-Gastez on Friday (15 July) where the South African Para-cycling team competed in the time trial event of the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup, hosted by the Basque Country, Spain.
Current UCI Time Trial H2 World Campion, Justine Asher, was the first of the South Africans off the starting ramp this morning. Although it took her a few kilometres to get her heart rate up to optimum, she quickly hauled in her competitors and finished with a near personal best average speed of just over 30 km/h to claim the gold medal. This is a remarkably good and re-assuring performance for her as she prepares for the Rio Paralympic Games. Asher knows that the Vitoria-Gastez Time Trial circuit is a very close equivalent of what is in store for her at Rio, and she is, therefore, extremely pleased with her achievement.
South Africa’s T2 rider Gerhard Viljoen maintained an excellent level of concentration throughout his Time Trial and quite easily beat his competitors to claim the gold medal. Viljoen is one of the South African reserve riders for the Rio Paralympics, and proved that if circumstances require him to ride there he will certainly be very competitive. His compatriot, independent T2 rider Goldy Fuchs, finished outside the medals, finding the technical aspects of the circuit difficult to master on the day.
Adding to the brace of gold medals won by his two teammates, Ernst van Dyk also won gold for his Time Trial performance, making it three-out–of-three for the South African team. Riding into a strong headwind at times, he achieved a very impressive average speed of over 41 km/hr. Van Dyk is increasingly comfortable in his new carbon hand-bike and is confident that it will enable him to achieve his goals at the Rio Paralympics.
The team has a very nice foundation laid for the Road Race scheduled for today (16 July), which is certain to be very exciting. The race will be hosted by the town of Elorrio, in a very different environment than that of the Time Trial. The circuit includes a long uphill drag entailing almost 100 metres elevation gain before an extremely fast, meandering downhill section ending in a tight chicane-like corner that allows only the quickest (or bravest) rider to claim the one and only racing line through it.