Para-Cyclists turn attention to Rio after successful 2015

In the lead up to next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games every moment counts and that’s especially true for Para-Cycling medal prospects Emma Foy and Laura Thompson.  The pair are still somewhat of a fledging combination having been together less than two years.  As such, 2015 was always going to be extremely important and both riders are pleased to have built on the immediate success they enjoyed last year, and feel they’re literally on track for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

“This has been our most successful year - we were a lot better on the road this year, so that was really good,” says the team sighted pilot Laura (28), a former New Zealand basketball representative who got in to cycling as rehabilitation following the need for hip reconstruction.

As with all things high performance these days, their improved road performance didn’t just happen.  It was the result of targeting a bigger road campaign ahead of the 2015 UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships.

“We got to spend time overseas doing an endurance block and a lot of hill climbing before road worlds, which we haven’t done before, and that really paid off for us.”

The pair improved on their 2014 fifth placing in the Women’s B Road Race to secure silver this year, just 11 seconds behind the Polish winners and nearly 6 minutes clear of third.  They also won silver in the time trial, missing out on gold to the Polish duo by just 0.03 seconds.  It’s something that Emma Foy (26) says they’ve been reminded of many times since and that conjures up mixed emotions.

“It’s bitter, sweet – it’s the best we’ve ever done but of course when you miss out by such a small margin, it’s not the best feeling in the world,” says Emma.

Being so close to first has naturally fuelled their motivation and combined with a Rio course more suited to the Kiwis, Emma is bullish about their chances against the Polish next year, who will again be considered the team to beat. 

“When you come that close (to winning) it’s within your reach so we’ll be gunning for it.

“And looking forward to Rio, the time trial (road course) is flat, so that suits us well as track riders and the type of riders we are. 

“The Polish in comparison are really suited to hilly courses – they’re quite little and are good climbers, so we’ve got that little advantage.”

Foy and Thompson also claimed a brace of medals at this year’s UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships.  They improved on last year’s fourth placing in the 1km Time Trial to snare bronze and successfully defended their gold medal in the Women’s B 3km Pursuit. 

“It was awesome – to win it once is amazing and to back it up the year after is very, very satisfying and shows that we can keep on top and keep heading forward.

“There are teams that are right behind us so it’s motivating in itself to keep us focused and training hard.”

The four events the riders are targeting for Rio are the four events they medalled in this year, which bodes well.  However, despite now being less than a year out from the Rio 2016 Paralympics and having had a great year, they’re still changing things up to improve on their winning formula.

“We’re running through a few reasonable changes in our programme at the moment,” says Laura.

“Obviously we’re always trying to get faster and there are some technical, rather than physiological things that we’re working on, to make some free speed gains.”

While there is a degree of trial and error involved, Laura says the changes being made have been well researched and planned by Paralympics New Zealand.  As such they’re very confident the end result will be positive.

Their other key focus is on refining their programme ahead of next year’s Para-Cycling Track World Championships in Italy in March, so that it mirrors what they’ll experience in Rio in terms of both track and road racing events.

“Usually we do track worlds and road worlds at different times of the year and we have 6 months to prepare for them individually.

“So that’s what we’re trying to refine now - doing a programme for track worlds that is based around having form for both events (track and road), which is more difficult.

“It’s obviously quite different training for a 1k sprint on the track and an 80k road race which is hilly.

“But that’s one of our biggest strengths, in that we are quite versatile in how we can ride,” adds Laura.

Following the track world championships it will be a total focus on training through until Rio and leaving no stone unturned to ensure they can enjoy the thrill of standing on the podium at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.  It’s a sensation that would be new for Emma but not for Laura, who has already experienced the jubilation of winning the gold, silver and bronze set of medals as pilot for Phillipa Gray in London 2012.  Here’s hoping they’ll both know what it feels like in twelve months’ time.