Opinion: Paracycling Track World Championships makes solid case for greater integration

British team pick up a raft of medals

Heidi Gaugain
(Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWPix)

The Para-cycling Track World Championships, held directly after the able-bodied track Worlds in Paris in Vélodrome de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, is the beginning of the integration we, as cyclists, love to see.

When I say vive la révolution, this is the one I’m referring to.

Cycling excellence is excellence, disabled or not. Let’s share venues and media attention and passion for our sport. We’re at the end of day two of four and there have already been notable victories.

For standard race reports and golds from Finn Graham, Blaine Hunt and Kadeena Cox check out the British Cycling twitter page. This won’t be standard because it’s yours truly, Hannah Dines, retired road racer and active track fan-girl. 

Before we get into this, I need to pause for my personal icon in this French competition.

Heidi Gaugain (FRA), who has a carbon prosthetic forearm which fits perfectly around her handlebar and shares Dame Sarah Storey’s classification as a C5, is the current junior track able-bodied (AB) world champion in the points race and junior AB team pursuit world champion, too.

Sarah tells me: "Heidi is 27 years younger [than me] (18 next month, my birthday on Wednesday next week) and following the AB route as a lot of C5s now are".

Heidi describes herself on Instagram as “cycliste and paracycliste”. The difference between the two is perhaps evident in yesterday’s “paracycliste” WC5 individual pursuit.

Heidi became victim to Sarah’s legendary (and lethal) individual pursuit overlap tactic and had to settle for silver.  Sarah was the only rider under a 3 minutes 40 seconds individual pursuit, outside of a Paralympic Games.

Age and experience might have been golden yesterday but the youngsters are building their strength, Britain's under-23 Morgan Newberry, also C5, came 4th in the same event in the bronze medal ride off against New Zealand’s Nicole Murray, who was born just after Sarah's first Games in '92. 

Power by Purpose

Nothing embodies the beneficial relationship between Olympic and Paralympic programmes in cycling like tandem riding. When it isn’t bodies which have impairment but eyes, an Olympic hopeful can easily find themselves becoming Paralympic World Champion and “joining the stripy jersey club” like Georgia Holt did winning the 750m tandem team sprint with ex-sprinter Libby Clegg and with male tandem James Ball piloted by Steffan Lloyd.  

Holt is part of the Power by Purpose Programme run by UK Sport and hopes to work with the Great British Cycling’s senior leadership team to encourage “more integration between both squads”.

She also recognises the unique position of being a non-disabled athlete in a Paralympic programme: “I hope I can use my voice to give further credibility to my teammates and I think the integration will be welcomed by both sides of both squads”.

Not least, it might allow future tandem partnerships combined members of both able-bodied and Para-cycling squads to be more successful. Georgia describes how pilots are expected to be guides on and off the bike, on training camps and races away, room-sharing with their stokers. “You have to have a strong, productive relationship for that to work because seven days together is very intense when you’re already in the pressure cooker of a race environment”.   

Georgia also acknowledges that Libby’s “stash of Percy Pigs” might be the reason they are getting through it.

The qualifying round was a bit messy “the gate didn’t work and the holder for the boys [tandem] grabbed Bally’s [stoker, James Balls'] hips”. Someone grabbing you from behind is always startling but possibly even more so if you are visually impaired.

Still, in the final the British tandems stormed to victory. Libby, who became a mum in 2019, says of the race “I’m really missing being away from Edward. Our success in the team sprint has made it all worthwhile though and I can’t wait to show him my medal."

Georgia Holt, identified while trialling for the Olympic sprint squad now joins her partner Matt Rotherham as a tandem pilot at her debut World Championships. Her Scottish teammate Jenny Holl, who was on the BC academy for the team pursuit went through a similar process and just won the tandem pursuit with Sophie Unwin. Teammates Corinne Hall and new recruit Elizabeth Jordan came in silver.  

It’s worth mentioning that many of the impairments on show are much more severe and impact a rider’s ability, not just to compete, but to make it to the world stage especially if they have high support needs and are women.

Katie Toft and Sam Ruddock both C1 riders with cerebral palsy became World Champions in their respective events today (500m and 1000m time trial). Sam was one of eleven male C1 riders and Katie, out of all the entrants in this World Championships, is the only female C1 and didn't get selected last year.

Both riders have only recently made it onto the funded British Cycling programme. I want to see a World Championships where Britain can turn up with eight tandem riders and eight C1s, or at least more riders in the most disabled classifications. More C1 glory and tandemonium await in the coming days and I will most definitely be keeping you updated. 

To finish, the pink headbands you’ll see British riders wearing are for teammate George Peasgood, multi-sport Paralympic medallist, triathlete and Para-cyclist who was involved in an accident while on a training ride earlier this month and who suffered severe head trauma and is in a coma. Look out for riders crediting their efforts #forGeorge. 

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