The spectacle of the powerful and close racing at the 2020 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships is undeniably thrilling, but what really gets under the skin for many watching around the world is the human stories behind those performances. And on Day 2 of the Championships at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton, Canada, the story of Britain’s Jaco van Gass – silver medalist on Thursday and earning his first rainbow jersey on Friday in the C3 1km time trial, is quite amazing.
Van Gass’s form in Canada was on display in the final race of the opening day when he pushed UCI no 1 ranked rider and triple World Champion David Nicholas of Australia to the limit in the final of the C3 3km individual pursuit. But the South African-born Briton won his first UCI Para-cycling gold – in the C3 Kilo – in style, taking the lead at the halfway point in his ride, and maintaining it to win in 1:07.867, almost a second ahead of the Russian rider Aleksei Obydennov, whose 1:06.131 world record has stood since 2014.
Van Gass underlined the achievement with a fine bronze medal ride in the C3 200m time trial, later in the day – narrowly beaten by Obydennov and Joseph Berenyi of the USA.
“I came so close!” said Van Gass on Friday morning, referring to the 3km pursuit. “But I was fairly beaten by a worthy opponent yesterday! We will reset and go.” But by Friday afternoon: “It's fantastic. It's everything I've worked for for a very long time. To finally have a rainbow jersey means the world."
Jaco van Gass has made it to the top of the world – and he had to do it the hard way.
Serving in the British Army’s Parachute Regiment in 2009, on his second tour to Afghanistan, Van Gass was seriously injured when he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Among multiple life-threatening and life-changing injuries, he lost his lower left arm. The scale of the effort to come to terms with – and overcome – the physical and mental damage, including a series of 11 operations, is unimaginable to most of us.
“It took some time to convince myself that everything would be alright, there were times that I did wonder why I was still alive and wished I was actually dead,” Van Gass told the BBC. “But you recognise that there must be some reason why you have survived.”
Rather than letting the injuries dictate his life, Van Gass determined that it would be his actions that defined him. After lengthy rehabilitation he took on challenges, ran marathons, climbed mountains, and became part of a group of handicapped soldiers who trekked to the South Pole with Britain’s Prince Harry.
After winning cycling events at the 2014 Invictus Games, he made his way onto the British Para-cycling team for the 2015 UCI Paracycling World Championships in the Netherlands. A year later, in Italy, he won the bronze medal in the Scratch Race, then at the 2018 UCI Paracycling World Championships in Rio, he earned another bronze in the pursuit.
But this year’s step up to the top of the podium is as significant in Van Gass’s recovery as it is a marvelous sporting achievement.
World records keep tumbling!
World record times were beaten on 16 occasions throughout Friday, with multiple record-beating individual performances in a number of events. In the Women’s 200m time trials, new records were set in every single classification: C1, C2, C3, C4 and C5 – most impressively the C4, where the mark got beaten four times, finally by Thursday’s heroine Kate O’Brien, who stormed to a 11.519sec victory for a second championship gold for the Canadian, with a staggering speed of 62.505km/h.
The men were not to be outdone, with USA’s Chris Murray shaving a sliver off Jon-Allan Butterworth’s 2019 world record in the C5 200m time trials. Guihua Liang of China followed suit in the C2 200m, narrowly improving on Matthew Robertson’s Apeldoorn time before Tristen Chernove of Canada and Alexandre Leaute both bettered it in the same event, resulting in the Frenchman’s second gold medal of the day. Weicong Liang of China set another new record in the day’s final event, the C1 200m, only to be ousted on the day’s final ride by the indomitable Ricardo ten Argiles of Spain.
World records fell in qualifying for both the Men’s and the Women’s Tandem Pursuit – both for the eventual winners Emma Foy and her pilot Hannah van Kampen (New Zealand) and Marcin Polak and pilot Michal Ladosz (Poland), who each retained their world titles.
The great haul of China
It was certainly a great day for the People’s Republic of China, with an impressive medal haul. With the second largest team contingent at the championships (14 riders), Chinese athletes found the podium in 11 out of 18 finals raced across Friday. Five of them were gold medals, with eight world record rides among the performances.
The never-ending Storey
The final word goes to another Briton, Dame Sarah Storey. The highly decorated 42-year-old para-athlete made it an astonishing 32 world titles in her career that spans cycling and swimming (19 on the track) as she took gold in the ‘flying start’ Women’s C5 200m time trial race.
Results from Day 2 are here: https://www.uci.org/para-cycling/events/uci-para-cycling-track-world-championships. Stay with the racing on Saturday for pursuit, tandem time trials, and the conclusion of the Women’s Omnium.