Less than six months before the Paralympic Games in Rio, the best para-cyclists in the world have work to do at the UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships, beginning Thursday (17 March) at the Montichiari velodrome in Italy. The event promises to be a show as the majority of world champions from 2015 are back to defend their titles.
Dutch rider Alyda Norbruis was the star of the last UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships held in Apeldoorn in her home country, and is targeting repeat wins in three events. In 2015, the class C2 rider pulled on the rainbow jersey for the time trial, pursuit and scratch race.
British aim to repeat gold rush
Although Norbruis greatly contributed to a superb haul by the Netherlands, it was the British who were big winners in 2015, collecting nine medals, seven of which were gold. Jody Cundy (C4 time trial), Neil Fachie (B sprint and time trial), Sarah Storey (C5 pursuit and time trial) and Sophie Thornhill (B sprint and time trial) are all back for more.
Already a holder of 11 gold medals from the Track World Championships, Storey will attempt to remain unbeaten in the C5 individual pursuit, an event in which she has won all the titles available since the first Para-Cycling Track World Championships in 2006.
Cundy, the UCI world champion in the time trial, has also dominated his category over this period and will again be the man to beat in Italy.
Thornhill, accompanied by pilot Helen Scott, will be attempting to win her third consecutive golds in the sprint and time trial.
Watch out for China, USA
With 10 podium places last year, the Chinese team must not be overlooked as they continue their development. After their gold medals in 2015, Zhangyu Li (C3 pursuit and time trial), Guihua Liang (C2 pursuit), Hao Xie (C2 time trial), Jieli Li (C1 pursuit and time trial) and Jianping Ruan (C4 time trial) are all ready for Montichiari.
The USA, who graced the top step of the podium on four occasions in Apeldoorn, will again rely on Joseph Berenyl, double world champion in the men's C3 pursuit and time trial. Among the women, Jamie Whitmore Cardenas is also seeking to retain her C3 time trial title.
The host country Italy's team of 11 riders are also a force to be reckoned with. Fabio Anobile (C3) and Andrea Tarlao (C5), fourth and sixth respectively in the scratch race in their respective categories at the 2015 Worlds, lead the Italian team.
A taster for the Rio Paralympic Games
The world’s best para-cyclists will put their cards on the table at the World Championships. The event brings together 174 athletes from 32 countries and represents the only opportunity for track hopefuls to demonstrate their abilities before they cross tracks again at the Paralympic Games in Rio in September.
The UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships is the last occasion at which riders can stake a claim in the Paralympic selection process which ends on 27 March. Once the qualification procedure has been completed, the points gained by the nations will be counted up and each country allocated the appropriate number of places for the biggest sporting event taking place later in the year.
The racing can be followed through live coverage and recorded highlights on Italy's ITRAI channel at the following times:
17.03 – live from 17:45 to 19:15 (GMT)
18.03 – recorded highlights from 16:00 to 17:30 (GMT)
19.03 – recorded highlights from 14:00 to 15:15 (GMT)
20.03 – live from 15:30 to 16:45 (GMT)
More information on the UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships can be found on the UCI’s website. Also follow the event on Twitter @UCI_Paracycling with the hashtag #PARACYCLING2016, Facebook and Instagram: @UCI_cycling.