Tandem riders on the way to the 2021 UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships

One week out from the UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships in Cascais, Portgual (9-13 June), we meet two of the world’s leading tandem athletes – Belgium’s Griet Hoet and the Netherlands’ Vincent ter Shure. Both these visually-impaired riders have been stoking, with their sighted pilots Anneleen Monsieur and Timo Fransen, to great success on the road (road race and time trial) and track. Here they discuss the sport, on-bike partnership, and preparations for the UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships and the Tokyo Paralympics.

“Over the last seven years the key to our success has been the synchronicity between me and Timo – it is very important,” says Vincent, who collaborated with Timo for this interview as they do in training and competition.

“It is also hard to describe because it is more a feeling on the bike that must match. It is a sense of timing and energy beyond words. You can’t talk much on the bike about what to do, you have to understand each other’s movement and energy and then adapt it to one movement on the bike. If we are not aligned then we lose energy.”

“Riding on a tandem is a team sport!” says Griet. “If the pilot or the stoker has a bad day, you never can win a race. A good relationship stimulates good results, and it is based on trust. As a stoker you can push as hard as possible but we also have to concentrate and try to feel the bike.

“90% of training sessions are on the tandem to make sure we're getting 'one machine' instead of two individuals. We also check the course before... I put the curves or other difficult places on the course in my mind. That's especially important on technical parts.

“In the team you can share the good moments and support each other if it didn't work out!”

These riders were successful in the recent UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup in Ostend (Belgium). Griet and Anneleen won the WB road race; Vincent and Timo won the road and TT (MB) races. It was a return to competition after the challenges of 2020, and for the Belgian women it meant a victory on home roads.

“First of all, we were so happy that the race in Ostend could be organised. We were very excited to be in competition again. It was also in our country, making it even more special!” Griet explains.

“Last year we were able to train well, we took the time to work on a good basic condition. Biking and hiking were the only things they never prohibited in Belgium, so we were lucky. For sure, the Covid protocols give us more stress. But honesty, on the asphalt your mind is in the race. There is only one thing important at that moment: how to win the race.”

Vincent and Timo’s approach to Ostend was clinical: “Every competition you start with a clean sheet: past results don’t count. We had no competition for almost two years and there were some new couples on the block, so we started with really no expectations.

“2020 was difficult on a relative scale, looking at the difficulties in the world. Maybe it is better to say that we missed the competition. Competition is always at ‘the end’ of your preparation. Preparation is like a wave – it always has a beginning, a peak and an end. When ‘the end’ was missing last year we got a little bit stuck, being constantly in the feeling of preparation.

“But also there was more time in 2020 to test materials ahead of Tokyo and to make some changes with our trainer.”

“After Ostend we took a short break but now we’re looking forward to the World Championships,” says Griet. “It is the last competition before the Paralympics so I hope a lot of tandems will participate. The course will be on a circuit, just like in Tokyo. I think it will be lots of fun and good preparation on ‘the road to Tokyo’.”

“This year is different. In other years the UCI World Championships is our main goal. The timing may not be really that good looking at Tokyo, but let’s be happy with the competition there is this year,” says Vincent. “Our biggest competitors are also going to Tokyo, so there’s a ‘battle with equal swords’.”

Griet is proud to be part of the Paralympic Team Belgium: “I guess it feels the same way as other athletes who represent their country. When you're on the stage and the Belgian anthem resounds, I'm always a little emotional.

“It's hard to describe the winner’s feeling. Especially because we had to work very hard to get to the top. Of course, I try to be an example for other people. First of all it's important to show that we are just normal people with a visual disability. I don't feel responsibility, even though I think we can be an inspiration.”

“Most Paralympians have had to handle great setbacks in life,” reflects Vincent. “It has nothing to do with most people who are busy trying to get more money, a bigger car or a bigger house. When you have had an accident and you are paralysed and you have to have help to wash yourself it makes you vulnerable: you have to ask for help. That vulnerability in combination with complete strength, power and resilience makes Paralympic sport often beautiful to watch.

“The first time I saw a handbike competition I had tears in my eyes! So I think the world is sometimes missing great sport that is great to watch!”