An announcement was delivered today at a media presentation at SASCOC House in Gauteng of the Paralympic squad to participate in the London Paralympic Games in August and September.

Cycling South Africa along with its parent body SASCOC (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) are proud to announce the 6-member para-cycling team to take part in the Paralympic Games. The team that was earlier proposed for selection, on the basis of strict selection criteria, was endorsed by the Board of Cycling SA Board and confirmed today by SASCOC.

2012 London Paralympic Team:

Ernst van Dyk – H4 Hand cyclist

Stuart McCreadie – H2 Hand cyclist

Gerhard Viljoen – T2 Tricyclist

Madre Carinus – T2 Tricyclist

Jaco Nel – C2 Track

Roxy Burns – C4 Track

The six slots allocated to South Africa by the UCI (International Cycling Union) are the result of hard-earned nation points that were accumulated by the country’s podium and top-10 finishers in UCI para-cycling World Cup and other championship events over the past 18 months. Different to the Olympic Games slot allocation process, which had South Africa’s able body cyclists earning these slots as recently as two weeks ago, the country’s para-cycling slots were announced two months ago, which has allowed for focused preparation of the proposed team bound for London.

Four male and two female slots were awarded to South Africa, with two categories ring fenced by the UCI. One of the male slots had to be filled by an H4 hand cyclist, with the other slot to be filled by a C4 female rider. The ring fenced slots have been filled by World Champion Ernst van Dyk and Roxy Burns. All six riders that have been selected for the London 2012 Paralympics are currently placed, by class, either in the top 6 UCI world rankings or have achieved top-6 finish (or better) positions in the official team selection qualifying events.

The 6-member squad will be the largest South African para-cycling contingent participating in the Paralympic Games in recent times. The squad includes one more (male) rider than the number that qualified for Beijing in 2008. “This is a remarkable achievement given the small pool of riders and limited resources that we have,” said Cycling SA’s Director of Para-cycling Dr Mike Burns. “The fact that we earned enough points to earn six slots is outstanding, and is a credit to the effort invested by all who have been involved in qualifying the team for the Paralympic Games”

Technical Course Awaits the Team

The London para-cycling road race and time trial will take place at the famous Brands Hatch motor racing circuit. This is an extremely technical route with many sharp turns and short sections of alternating up- and down-hill gradients that will prevent the riders from easily establishing a comfortable rhythm to their riding and/or recovering from energy-sapping uphill pulls. This was confirmed by Ernst van Dyk who test-rode the Brands Hatch circuit earlier this week.

Van Dyk is no stranger to performing in world-class events, and is the current UCI road race World Champion for the H4 hand cycling class. There is every possibility that he will earn the coveted gold medal in London for this event, and he also has more than a reasonable chance of securing a medal in the time trial event (having recently finished on the podium for this event in the UCI World Cup hosted by Spain earlier this month). For van Dyk, the route could be in his favour as he relishes challenging technical aspects of a road race.

The course is particularly challenging for H2 hand cyclist Stuart McCreadie, who performs best on relatively flat courses, with climbs and corners of intermediate complexity. Brand Hatch does not, however, phase McCreadie, a late bloomer at 45-years old, who has rapidly climbed the UCI rankings since discovering his hand cycling talent. He began competitive hand cycling in September 2008, racing his first World Cup in Spain in June/July 2010. Specialist gym training with the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA) was introduced to his fitness regime about a year ago to hone and build his strength. This intervention and a taxing training programme on the road have assisted him to reach a highly competitive top-5 ranking in the most recent UCI Spanish World Cup.

Well prepared

Tough T2 tricyclist Gerhard Viljoen could very likely achieve a Paralympic podium finish, aided by his strength and fearlessness in riding technically challenging races. The London circuit aligns well with his natural strengths. Viljoen’s female counterpart Madre Carinus has developed very well in terms of her competitiveness over the past two years, as evidenced by the two medals (one silver, the other bronze) that she won at the UCI Spanish World Cup last month. With interventions planned for their tricycle set-up, under the advice of Cycling SA’s HP specialist Dr Jeroen Swart, the competitiveness of both tricyclists is expected to be at the highest possible standard in London.

London’s new velodrome will see Jaco Nel and Roxy Burns compete in their respective C2 and C4 classes. Nel’s medal potential stems from his 2011 double silver medal wins in the 2011 UCI track World Championship in Italy, and his steady improvement in his competitiveness in the C2 class in which he has been placed comparatively recently. An assessment by Jeroen Swart of Nel’s physical condition confirms the excellent potential that he has to medal in London. Likewise, Roxy Burns has excellent medal prospects for London, having recently achieved times in her specialist sprint event that could secure her a podium finish. She was unfortunate not to medal at the World Championships in Los Angeles earlier this year, particularly after posting what would have been a medal-earning time a few months earlier at the Oceania Championships in New Zealand. The 24-year old started competing as a 12-year old member of the Western Province (now Western Cape) para-cycling team, and has advanced over the past decade to achieve a UCI no. 1 world-ranking in her class in 2010. Burns feels comfortable with her preparations for London, working with her coach and provided with support from SSISA in the high-performance aspects of her training programme. She will be honing her track racing skills on the velodrome in Mallorca next month together with teammate Jaco Nel.

Cycling SA president William Newman was ecstatic with the squad announcement made by SASCOC. “On behalf of Cycling SA I would like to extend our congratulations to all the para-cyclists who have qualified to compete in the Paralympics,” said Mr Newman. “You have done exceptionally well over the past few years, especially in terms of podium finishes these past 6 months. We wish you all well as you involve yourselves in your final preparations in the coming weeks. I know that you will do us all proud. We support you all the way!”