The para-cycling event of the Rio Paralympic Games continued this Thursday, with the road races starting in Pontal. As the handcycling pros were hard at work, some athletes caused a surprising stir and snatched the victory away from the favourites.
South African Ernst Van Dyk snatched the H5 gold, to the surprise of many, after covering the 60 km in 1 hour 37 minutes 49 seconds. Towards the end of the race, he sprinted ahead of Italian Alessandro Zanardi and Dutch Jetze Plat, who finished second and third, respectively.
"I can't think of a better way to end my cycling career than with a gold medal at the Paralympic Games," said the 43-year-old, road race silver medallist at the London Games.
"Beijing in 2008 was my last gold in handcycling. That's a long, long time ago. It's been a crazy, crazy eight years to get back up there, and I'm so happy today that it worked out. I'm going to miss these guys, but will enjoy the marathons now."
Alex Zanardi, the event’s reigning UCI World Champion and gold medallist in 2012, was a clear favourite for the race. The 49-year-old didn’t get the gold, but he did claim a second medal to his Rio haul, in addition to a time trial silver on Wednesday.
Another Italian, Luca Mazzone, was also caught by surprise, this time in the H2. In the end, American William Groulx covered the 45 km in the least amount of time, 1h 15 min 23 s. In the time trial event, the day before, Groulx came in second, right after his nemesis Mazzone.
The 42-year-old Italian, who cleaned up on the H2 gold medals in the most recent UCI Worlds, had to resign himself with the silver this time around. Swiss Tobias Fankhauser (+ 7 min 49 s), H1 medallist at London, was the third man on the podium.
Merklein and Cecchetto also surprise
In the H4, German Vico Merklein stole the victory away from Polish Rafal Wilk after winning the 60-km road race in 1h 28 min 48 s. This is a second medal for Merklein in Rio, on top of his time trial bronze.
Double-medallist in London, 2012, and holder of the event’s world title, Wilk came three seconds behind Merklein, and came away with the silver medal, to add to his gold from Wednesday’s time trial.
The third place on the podium went to France’s Joël Jeannot (+ 6 seconds).
It was certainly a disappointing day for Vittorio Podesta, time trial gold and a dominant force in the H3 class over the past three years. Today, he had to resign himself to the sixth place, after leading for most of the race.
His fellow countryman, Paolo Cecchetto, was the first to cover the 60 km to cross the finish line, after 1h 33 min 17 s. Germany’s Maximilian Weber and Canada’s Charles Moreau were also in the final sprint, and finished in second and third, respectively.
Eskau and Reppe dominate, to no-one’s surprise
Things played out quite differently on the women’s side, with the favourites keeping up with the expectations.
In the H5, Andrea Eskau made podium yet again, claiming the road race gold. The 45-year-old German, H4-5 time trial double-medallist in London and silver in Rio, covered the 45 km road race in 1h 37 min 07 s. She has dominated the event in the past three editions of the UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships.
After getting the time trial bronze, Laura de Vaan, from the Netherlands, came two seconds after Eskau and just before her fellow countrywoman Jennette Jansen.
Another German, Christiane Reppe, won the H1-2-3 45-km road race. Two-time UCI World Champion in the H4 event, she stopped the clock at 1h 15 min 56 s.
"It's a feeling I've never had before,” said Reppe, who took up cycling after the London Games. “I've never had a gold medal in the Paralympics. When I was a swimmer I was always third and behind.”
"I’ve been working a lot and very hard, especially in the last year. Trying everything to get the gold medal, and it really happened."
In a heated dispute for second place, Korean Doyeon Lee (H4) got the better of Italian Francesca Porcellato (H3). Both of them finished two seconds after the champion.
Para-cycling sport classes:
H - Handbike
T - Tricycle
C - Conventional bike with some adaptations
B - Tandem (blind or visual impaired)