Keeping the Wheels Turning by Ernst van Dyk

In late June Ernst van Dyk, (current world champion H4 handcyclist), Stuart McCreadie (H2 handcyclist),  Madre Carinus (T2 tricyclist) and Gerhard Viljoen (T2 tricyclist) landed back on home soil having represented South Africa at two major European UCI Para-cycling road events in Europe as preparation for the 2012 Paralympic Games. They were accompanied by Dr Mike Burns (Team Manager), Elrick Kulsen (Coach) and Tom Paulsen (Physiotherapist).

The first event we attended was the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup at Rome in May. We arrived May 23rd and found the speed at which life moves in Rome quite unsettling! Everybody was in a mad rush and the drivers were very impatient. Somehow we managed to find our hotel andsettle in. We unpacked the bikes (one was missing!) and did a recce of the timetrial (TT) routes, as well as the road race route. The missing bike fortunately arrived the next day after being held up in Istanbul.

The time trial route was beautifully situated near the beach, and flat as a pancake with four easy turns. On the other hand, the roadrace course was the stuff nightmares are made of with twists and turns, crazy sharp bends at the bottom of very fast down hills, and a road surface that would give the potholes in Gauteng a good name!

Tremendous Tricycles

On the day of the TT the team were treated to a warm and sunny day along the 4.7 km course, with racing starting as early as 9am and the heat only relenting at dusk. The TT racing was spectacular for our tricyclists covering a distance of 9.4km, two laps of the course. Gerhard Viljoen and Madre Carinus did us proud and presented themselves on the podium to collect their silver and bronze medals respectively. Viljoen's second place was just 18s econds off the gold medal!

Handcyclist, Stuart McCreadie, was looking good and in fine shape during his challenge in the TT but he rounded the second last corner too fast and rolled his bike! The crash caused a few cuts and scrapes for McCreadie but the lost minutes (and the road rash on his bike!) hurt much more. I finished sixth in my three lap, 14.1km time trial. Italian, Allesandro Zanardi, claimed gold ahead of America's World Champion, Oscar Sanchez, and there were a mere 15 seconds between 4thand 8th results. I was pleased with the improvements we had been able to make through my training.

The next day's racing saw me competing in a 12 lap, 60km race while team mate, Stuart McCreadie, tackled 10 laps of the 5km circuit, racing a distance of 50km. Almost from the onset the racing was remarkable as Oscar Sanchez was disqualified for an equipment infringement. I stuck with the lead group for several laps but had to settle for 6th place as the training we are busy with did not have me ready for the kind of racing that the day provided. McCreadie also struggled and, after losing the lead group early on, finished in the middle of the field.

The accolades on Sunday went to tricyclist Madre Carinus who won silver in her road race in a dramatic sprint, nudging Lisette De Heide, from the Netherlands, into third place by a mere 0,02 seconds. Unfortunately teammate Gerhard Viljoen experienced technical problems with asticking front brake, but claimed a remarkable 5th place nevertheless.

Arrivederci Roma

After Rome we bid goodbye to coach Ricky and Physio Tom as we moved to Notwill in Switzerland for a seven day training camp, making the most of the sublime, Suisse summer. It is a favourite venue that I often use during preparations for the many Paralympic games I have participated in over the years. London 2012 shall be my 6th Paralympic games, a feat matched only by local swimming legend, Tadhg Slattery! Notwill provides cycling routes (including circuits around the beautiful Sempachersee Lake) that are relatively free of traffic, with good road surfaces, variable gradients and somequite technical elements.

A typical training day included morning and afternoonsessions, with the programme alternating mostly between tempo and intervalriding. Whilst the training environment was good for the hand-cyclists, it was exceptional for the tricyclists who require a safe channel in which to ride, free of traffic hazards.

Myself and Stu were averaging around 100km every day. We soon decided that it was the best way to beat South Africa's Western Cape winters and, that we should return for at least another 10 days of training prior  to the  London 2012 Paralympics.

Summitting Swiss Peaks

The Swiss leg of the trip culminated in the team's participation in the Knut will time trial and Schenkon road race, at the beginning of June. The Schenkon event has traditionally had the greatest number of participating riders in the Handcycling classes of any event internationally. It was quite clear from the team's performance in these events that the week's hard training had paid off. Carinus, Viljoen and I secured gold in both events, whilst McCreadie, competing in a field of about fifty H2handcyclists, finished 7th (TT) and 9th (RR). These were remarkablygood performances for McCreadie, who has been consistently climbing higher inthe rankings over the past 12 months.

Sawubona Espa?a

With some valuable training and racing experience behind us we headed home for a brief seven days before the handcycle team set sail to Spain, again under the management of JC van der Walt. Andries Scheepers(H4) was included in the team to provide him with some high level exposure as part of the planning for post London 2012.

Team spirit was high as we churned out sterling performances at the second round of the 2012 Para-cycling Road World Cup Seriesin Segovia. Andries, Stuart and I kicked off our racing at Valverde de Maja noon Friday at the time trial race where we had to contend with hot and windy conditions despite late afternoon and early evening starting times.

McCreadie and I proved that our Paralympic preparations are well on track with solid performances. I earned a silver medalover the 21km route, coming second to Oscar Sanchez, and Stu took 5thplace in a tight race in the highly competitive H2 class that saw 24 competitors tackle the 13km route. His 5th place finish was a mere 0.2 seconds behind the current world cup leader, David Franek, from France. Stuwas ecstatic with his improvement. Andries, racing in only his second UCI international event, finished in 9th place ahead of Israel's NatiGroberg.

The road racing on the Saturday took place in thehistoric town of Villa de Cuellar. The 12km circuit presented a 7-degreegradient and included a 750-metre long cobblestone hill that challenged ourSouth African trio.

In Sunday's 60km 5-lap H4 race, I crossed the finishline in an exciting photo finish challenge for fourth place against Jetze Platfrom the Netherlands, with Plat claiming the 4th spot and meclaiming 5th, both of us recording the same time of 01:46:26. The Belgianrider, Wim Decleir, won the race beating Oscar Sanchez (in another photo finish) with a winning time of 01:41:28. Andries finished 10th, missing outon 9th place by a mere 0.03 seconds.

Stu finished 8th out of 24 in the 48km4-lap H2 race in a time of 01:21:54, just 1 minute and 56 seconds off the paceset by the winner, Frenchman David Franek. The Spanish World Cup served as excellent preparation for Stu and I ahead of the London Paralympics and weshall be further fine-tuning our performance in July, at the Canadian World Cupin Baie-Comeau.

Hatching Plans

Stu and Andries came home whilst I travelled on to London with manager, JC van der Walt, to an open day arranged by the UCI for teams to test the Paralympic course. It was a valuable experience and some very detailed notes were taken to share with the rest of the team! The Brands Hatch course is extremely technical and one that will test our limits physically as well as mentally, just as one would expect a Paralympic event to do. With around 11weeks to go before we race in London the information gathered will aid us enormouslyas we start fine-tuning our preparations.

I would like to thank Cycling SA and SASCOC formaking these trips possible and giving us the opportunity to compete and race with the best in the world as we prepare for London 2012. To the management who always make themselves available to travel with us, taking time away from their jobs and family, and without whose support these trips would not be possible: we appreciate each and every one of you and the hard work you put in.