Top duo uncertain about prospects in world event
The Invercargill-based Paralympic gold-medal winning combination of Phillipa Gray and Laura Fairweather will be heading into the unknown at this month's UCI Paracycling world road championships in Canada.
After winning bronze, silver and gold, and setting a new world record in London last year, the duo will be competing at their first world championship and against several new combinations in the time trial and 80km road race.
"It's definitely going to be tough. There are new tandem combinations and different countries have entered. Even though it's the year after [the Paralympics] and most sports go through the rebuild phase, you can't look at a race and know who is going to do well."
New Zealand will field a nine-strong team, coached by Brendon Cameron, including a new tandem combination of Wellington student Emma Foy and her Invercargill pilot Gabrielle Vermunt, Paralympic bronze medallist Fiona Southorn and hand cyclists Tiffiney Perry, Jonathan Nelson, Brendon Stratton and Tim Williams.
Foy and Vermunt have been working together since Foy was introduced to the programme in February, and Cameron approached Vermunt about being a pilot rider. Vermunt said she was motivated to get involved after seeing the success of Gray and Fairweather last year.
"For my own cycling, it's good to have something to work towards, it keeps you training hard. I'm going better than ever and it's nice to find my legs again because for a while I was wondering if I was getting too old."
The aim was to keep the combination together and qualify for the next Paralympics in Rio.
Gray said preparations for the world championships had gone well, although the challenges of a Southland winter had meant plenty of hours on an indoor trainer.
Gray and Fairweather's success in London earned them a new level of financial support that has taken them through to these world championships.
That support is dependent on medalling in what is their pinnacle event this season.
"Not that you race for the money, you race for the best results possible, but there is an incentive at the end of it."
Gray estimated she had spent an extra $20,000, much of it from fundraising, in preparation for the championships, including a new training bike, wheels and tyres.
- © Fairfax NZ News