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Two silver medals, now Ernst hits the wheelchair circuit

By Mark Etheridge

Two UCI World Championships para-cycling silver medals in the bag doesn’t mean that six-time Paralympian Ernst van Dyk’s 2013 season is over yet.

Van Dyk recently took second spot in both the time trail and road race in Canada but he’s already plotting his next challenges.

Back at his base in Paarl, Van Dyk shared his plans for the rest of the year with Road to Rio 2016. “Well I’m in off season for the bike now but I keep fit by doing some wheelchair races and generating some much needed income!

“On 10 October I’m back in Canada doing a race in Toronto called the Rolling Rampage 10k. Then on 13 October I’m competing in the Chicago Marathon followed by the NY City Marathon on 3 November. Then from December till April I’ll be on base training to build a better foundation for next seasons hand-cycling challenges.

Speaking of his time trial said: “The TT course at Worlds was a very hard one but it was also a very ‘honest’ course as it would expose any weakness. I like that about a course and that is why the TT is called the ‘race of truth’.

“We had a challenge in that the time keeping system we had developed for the TT runs off smart phones. In Canada we could not purchase any data-roaming sim cards so we had to revert back to old fashioned hand time keeping. This presented another problem as due to budget constraints we were very thin on team management.

“The end result was that the team coach would take my split on the guys in front of me and behind me on kilometre four of the 8km loop which we had to do twice. He would then sms it to the team manager who was at the start finish. When I crossed the finish line on my fist lap the official time keeping system showed a time and position sixth.

“My heart sunk down to the road as I had just pushed as hard as I could have managed without blowing up. Then I passed the team manager and he help up a piece of paper saying position 1 +10sec. Now this indicated that I was 10 seconds behind the leader (Alex Zanardi) at the 4km mark) so I thought we must all be pretty close if I was in second at 4km and in sixth at the midway point.

“I saw somebody in front of me and pushed forward passing him in the next 2km. It was the guy from Israel who had started 2min in front of me but not a race favourite at all.

“As I started climbing the long 2km hill I could see another rider and his follow car. I knew it had to be Tim De Vries from the Netherlands who was a race favourite for a medal so I put down a bit of an acceleration and by the 12th km mark I caught him exactly at the point where a very excited coach [Ricky Kulsen] was jumping up and down but he was so excited I could not understand a word he was saying!

“When I caught Tim his follow car told him over the speaker they had mounted on their car’s dash board that if he just stayed with me he would win bronze.

“So I put two and two together and finally figured out I was lying in position for silver with 4km to go. Tim stayed with me and sort of got in my way but we crossed the finish line together. Later I learned that I had finished in silver medal position and only 14 seconds behind Zanardi. I lost only nine seconds to him on the first lap and a mere five seconds on the second lap.

“I remember seeing the Italians in five or six different positions on the course and later it became clear that they were simply feeding my splits to Zanardi and he just made sure that he stayed in touch with my lap times. It was still a big improvement from London where I finished fifth, 1min and 40 seconds behind Alex but somehow I still felt like I could have won gold if I had known what was going on around me.”

After the TT there followed a setback for Van Dyk as he took ill after the TT medal ceremony. Medallists had to rush to the ceremony immediately after the race and it was a chilly windy evening which didn’t help matters.

“The next morning I woke up with a sore throat and spent the day in my room just drinking as much water to stay hydrated and keep whatever bug I had caught under control.”

He lined up for the road race with the nagging doubt that his body had just been fighting off a potential cold but there was no time to dwell on that as Netherlands athlete Jetze Plat put in a big attack on the first hill, as early as 2km. That was to be the order of the day with the Dutch attacking and Van Dyk chasing down the gaps.

“The Dutch also used a tactic I have never seen before and something I was not ready for ÔÇô each time we would enter the feeding zone one of them would attack, putting us in a position where we had to chase and we had no time to take on more water. This carried on for a few laps and the cramps started to settle in. With two laps to go I simply had to take on water and knew I would spend at least half a lap chasing down another Dutch attack.”

With a lap to go the lead group was down to five and Van Dyk took charge of the last 3km before an Australian passed him and led into the final two kilometres.

“With 1km to go I had to make my move,” said Van Dyk.”There was a very steep little hill 150m before the finish line and I knew that if I wanted to beat Zanardi I needed two bike lengths on him at the top of the hill. I went as hard as I could but at the top of the hill he was right next to me. I knew he can accelerate slightly better than me and he got a bike length on me as we headed for the final 100m towards the finish.

“I did everything I could but there was simply not enough road left and he beat me to the line. It was a tremendous sprint effort from both of us after a 70km road race with an overall elevation gain of close to 2000m and this can be seen in the results as we opened up 3sec to third and eight seconds to fourth within 250m.”


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