Quicker Van Dyk looks to defend rainbow jersey in Canada | SASCOC - SASCOC

Quicker Van Dyk looks to defend rainbow jersey in Canada

By Mark Etheridge

London Paralympian silver medallist Ernst van Dyk goes into this week’s IPC World Road Cycling Championships in Canada with a lighter bodyweight, a lighter bikeÔǪ and as a heavyweight contender for at least one title.

A veteran of an incredible six Paralympics, Van Dyk has recently been working on a plan to beat the seemingly invincible Alex Zanardi, the man who pipped him to gold in the road race at Brands Hatch, London last year.

To do so, he spent time in the United States, working on a new-look lighter bike to do battle with the Italian. In London, Zanardi had blown all away with his custom build ultra-light machine that cost a few hundred thousand Rand to put together.

Van Dyk is not one for taking defeat lying down though and slowly but surely the gap has closed. That much was seen at the recent World Cup in Matane, Canada where he took fifth in the time trial and, more importantly, posted a confidence-boosting win over Zanardi in the road race [see photo-finish on the right].

“In the last week before we travelled to Canada, Ricky Kulsen (coach) and I noticed that my time trial abilities on the new bike had improved a lot. My new bike was built with the road race, and more specifically the sprint finish, in the back of our minds. But I’ve lost more than 5kg since London last year and it seems that this, combined with the new bike, had also somehow improved my TT. So I arrived with high hopes for both my races in Matane.”

But there were other factors that came into play early on, as he told Road to Rio. “Five minutes into the TT I didn’t feel good at all. My heart rate was elevated and I couldn’t find a good rhythm. Zanardi started one minute after me and within 11km he had caught me,’ said Van Dyk.

“It was a very windy day and his smaller profile played a big factor. But somehow once he caught me it was as if I woke up (three days of travel plus jet lag will do that to you!) and I started riding away from him. In the end I finished fourth, just five seconds behind Tim de Vries from the Netherlands, and less than a minute behind Zanardi.”

Putting that improvement by Van Dyk into perspective is the fact that in July Zanardi had beaten him by almost 2min 40sec and in London last year by 1:40. “So even though I felt pretty grim I still closed a big gap on him.”

That gave the Paarl-based powerhouse confidence for the road race later at the World Cup. The road race was raced over the same eight-kilometre loop and made up a total of 66km.

“I attacked a lot and attacked hard during the first four laps. But after a while it became clear that I was not going to be able to break away from them. The Dutch had three riders in the lead group and they were able to cover every moved I tried as well as the couple of moves Zanardi tried.”

The pace then slowed considerably for the last lap as the title contenders juggled for position in an attempt to set up the sprint.

“With 2km to go the Dutch armada attacked down a fast downhill with a sharp bend at the bottom. I was able to pass them on the inside but then one of them tried to push me into the curb. I had to brake and fall to the back of the six-man group to be able to take the last two turns.”

It’s then that the new lightweight Van Dyk and his new machine came into their own.

“I accelerated out of the last corner and found myself right behind one of the Dutch in second position although I had no idea where Zanardi was. With 400m to go though he came from the back on the outside and he immediately gapped us by two bike lengths. I went around the Dutch and started to hunt him down. With just 50m to go I blasted past him at over 59km/h and he could not respond so I claimed my first win over him in four road races.”

Next up is this week’s World champs in Baie-Comeau where Van Dyk will be out to defend the rainbow jersey he won two years ago. “The course has more climbing in it and it’s a course that will not tolerate any weakness. The key factor is that there is a steep short climb 200m before the finish and this will be a key point in decided who will claim the title. First up is the TT on Thursday and we are aiming to win at least the bronze medal in that one.”