Europe's best Para cyclists share their secret to success

Para cycling is one of the 10 sports staged at the European Para Championships 2023 in Rotterdam, Netherlands 18 Aug 2023
Three Para athletes posing for a photo after receiving gold medals and a European champion shirt
France stormed to Para cycling team relay gold at the European Para Championships 2023
ⒸEuropean Para Championships 2023
By Ayano Shimizu | The IPC

In less than a week, French Para cyclists Joseph Fritsch and Johan Quaile were crowned both world and European champions. Wearing the UCI rainbow jersey they stormed to victory together with Anais Vincent in the mixed team relay at the European Para Championships 2023. 

“There has been a lot of emotion in a really short time. I don’t know what to say,” Fritsch said after the race. “Being European champions gives you extra motivation. (Training) becomes difficult and painful, but it can keep me going.” 

Competing in Rotterdam’s city centre, France finished in 18'19", followed by Italy and Germany. The team received their medals and a European champion suit on the podium and celebrated the milestone together. 

In Para cycling, athletes with physical impairments compete on handcycles, tricycles or bicycles, while athletes with a vision impairment compete on tandems with a sighted “pilot.”

In Rotterdam, we asked some of Europe’s best Para cyclists to share their tips and keys to success. 

Have fun 

The team event features Para athletes competing on handcycles, which are powered by the athletes’ arms.  

Fritsch has become world and European champion in the space of a week Ⓒ European Para Championships 2023

“I don’t know if there’s a secret (to winning). I would like to know if there is. Honestly, it’s just training, stay focused and always enjoy what you do. And after, maybe you can win,” Fritsch said with a laugh. 

“But It’s always your own effort that matters. Everybody needs to be the best. For me, the most important thing is to take pleasure. You need to enjoy what you do.” 

Trust your partner 

Poland’s Patrycja Kuter and Kasia Kornasiewicz screamed with joy after finding out that they won the women's B time trial. Kuter, who has a vision impairment, competes in a tandem bike with Kornasiewicz as her sighted pilot. 

“Wow, I’m very surprise and very happy and proud of myself and my pilot,” Kuter said. “The very important thing in the tandem is that not only partners in cycling but also very good friends in private life.” 

“When you’re riding together, each tries to do the best for our friend and trust is very important. I know that I can totally trust Kasia and Kasia trusts me. That helps very much.” 

Before every race, they come up with a plan. Kuter says it is important for her to “learn the route by heart” and decide what kind of technique she needs during the race. 

“There are simple words like ‘stand up’ or ‘sit down’, ‘left’ ‘right’ or ‘do more’. Just simple words to communicate, because there’s not much time and we’re too tired during the race to talk,” the athlete said. 

Kornasiewicz said their success is based on their “true friendship”. Kuter moved to the city where she lives so they can train and spend more time together. 

“My job is to keep the handle bar so we arrive safely and manage the race tactics. And obviously to push as hard as possible and be another strong engine of the tandem,” said Kornasiewicz, a mother of four children. 

“She can feel the bike very well and expect what I do with my legs and body, but when there are any sharp or unexpected turns, I communicate so she can either stand up or push stronger,” she said.  

“But we don’t have to communicate verbally so much because we ride together. She can read what I would do instantly.”

 Keep balance 

Swiss cyclist Celine Van Till also shot to victory in Rotterdam a week after winning the women’s T2 individual time trial at the UCI World Championships in Scotland. It was her first event since her triumph in Glasgow and the first time competing in front of her mother in the Netherlands. 

“I’m really happy after winning my first world championship gold medal in Glasgow last week and gold medal again here in Rotterdam. I’m very proud to be here, because I have Dutch parents so it’s my second home.” 

She competes on a tricycle, which is used by athletes with impairments that affect their balance and co-ordination. 

“The tricycle needs to be kept in balance. It’s not that easy handling three wheels,” she said. “But it makes me happy because it makes me able to ride on a bike. With a normal bike with two wheels, it would be impossible for me.” 

Feel free 

Nikolaos Papangelis of Greece finished with a silver medal in the men’s C2 time trial in Rotterdam and took a deep breath to enjoy the milestone. He completed in 14'20" in the event won by France’s Alexandre Leaute. 

Papangelis, who had his left leg amputated due to cancer, has been in love with Para cycling since he started eight years ago.  

“I love the feeling of being free when I’m riding the bicycle. I’m cycling with one leg so I need to push and pull up the pedal, only with one leg,” he explained.  

Papangelis, left, competed at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. @Thomas Lovelock/OIS

“After my amputation, I just wanted to do something with sports. I tried out other sports, but I love cycling because cycling gave me the speed that I probably couldn’t experience with my prosthetic leg.”

He has his sights set on the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, after finishing sixth in his Games debut at Tokyo 2020.  

“I sleep and wake up every morning imagining myself on the podium of the Paralympic Games,” he said. “I will do whatever it takes, I will work so hard to make my dream come true next year.”  

"Cycling is a sport for everyone. Cycling is a passion and a sport with speed. I encourage everyone to join our cycling community."