The remarkable story of Ricardo Ten - Spain’s one-limbed cycling star

The former swimmer is targeting a seventh Paralympics, this time as a cyclist

Ricardo Ten cycling in a velodrome
(Image credit: SWPix)

When Ricardo Ten was eight years old, he had an accident that would change the course of his life. 

He speaks about it in a matter-of-fact tone. There’s no hint of regret or sadness, just acceptance of something that happened, something that left him with just one full limb. 

“When I was little, I touched a high-voltage power line, and electrocuted myself,” he tells Cycling Weekly. “They had to amputate both of my arms and my left leg. 75% of my body ended up with third-degree burns.”

It took Ten two years to recover from his injuries, and many more to adapt to his new life. Today, though, he is a three-time world champion track cyclist, earning his third title in the Scratch race at the 2023 Glasgow World Championships

The 47-year-old Spaniard competes in para-cycling's C1 category, reserved for those with “severe” impairments. His career in cycling, however, only began seven years ago, following decades as a swimmer. 

“I’ve done five Paralympic Games, from Atlanta 1996 to Rio 2016,” he says, humbly leaving out that he won three gold medals. “After Rio in 2016, I changed over to cycling. People were really surprised by the switch and how fast I adapted. 

“They thought I had never been in the world of cycling before, but the reality is, since I was a little boy, I was always riding a bike. I used to ride to the swimming pool for training. It was always my mode of transport in Valencia, the city where I live. The only thing that put an end to my career as a swimmer was my desire to give competitive cycling a go.” 

Ricardo Ten cycling in a velodrome

(Image credit: SWPix)

Ten’s bike is unique across the team pens inside the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome. It was designed specially for him. “The track bike is very simple, because it doesn’t have gears or brakes," he explains. 

“The only thing I needed to sort was the handlebars. Mine have secure holds, made from moulds of my stumps, which are fixed to the bars. That’s about it, really. I’ve also got a specially-made prosthetic leg that doesn’t have a foot, and clips directly into the pedal.” 

The Spaniard also competes on the road, and has won rainbow jerseys in C1 road and time trial disciplines. “My road and time trial bikes are a bit more complicated, because I have to brake and change gears,” he says. “But I’ve got buttons for that attached to my handlebars.” 

In just six years as a professional cyclist, Ten's accolades are staggering. The magnitude of his feats, he makes clear, is not lost on him. 

"I've had quite a lot of success," he says. “I’ve always been really competitive in every sport I’ve done. I knew that, by training and dedicating loads of hours to cycling, I could do well in it. But I never thought the results I’ve had would come so soon.”

Now, Ten’s focus is clear. Twenty-eight years after his first Paralympics, he’s determined to be back at the Games competing, and has his hopes pinned on Paris 2024.

“I’ve got the chance of going to a sixth Paralympics, but this time as a cyclist,” he smiles. “It’s quite incredible.” 

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Tom Davidson
News and Features Writer

Tom joined Cycling Weekly as a news and features writer in the summer of 2022, having previously contributed as a freelancer. He is the host of The TT Podcast, which covers both the men's and women's pelotons and has featured a number of prominent British riders. 

An enthusiastic cyclist himself, Tom likes it most when the road goes uphill and actively seeks out double-figure gradients on his rides. 

He's also fluent in French and Spanish and holds a master's degree in International Journalism.