It could be a huge year for the US Paralympics Cycling National Team.
The American squad is loaded with talent and will be riding the momentum from a number of impressive recent showings on the world stage that have the cyclists atop the world rankings heading into the 2016 season.
Team USA is the top-ranked nation in track, road and the overall International Cycling Union (UCI) standings after a strong 2015 that included a 12-medal haul from the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, and an 18-medal performance at July’s road World Championships in Nottwil, Switzerland.
Jamie Whitmore won three world medals on the track and then proceeded to sweep the time trial and road race in the women’s C3 class as she defended her gold medals and served notice that she will be a major contender at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
On the men’s side, Paralympic gold medallist and track world champion Joe Berenyi leads a talented and hungry group and enters 2016 after winning four medals — three on the track and one on the road — at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games. Berenyi, 47, is a veteran who is no stranger to competing at the highest levels, and he feels good about his status heading into the season.
“As long as I stay healthy, every time I line up, I’ve got a good chance of doing well,” said Berenyi, who won gold at the London 2012 Paralympic Games with a world-record time in the individual pursuit. “The main goal is going to Rio, and I’d like to defend my world championships — at least one of them, if not both.”
Berenyi was an accomplished amateur cyclist before losing his right arm and left kneecap in a construction accident in 1994. He put his bike away for nearly 13 years before returning to the sport, first for fun, and then to train to be a top-level Paralympian.
He recently returned from participating in a weeklong training camp in Buellton, California, and liked what he saw there.
“Everyone was riding well, and from what I saw, we looked good,” Berenyi said. “Everyone’s training real hard. It’s a really good group, and you don’t get to be ranked No. 1 without having a couple of good people — it’s a team thing.”
Top to bottom, this year’s US squad is stacked: there are nine Paralympians and five reigning world champions on the 27-athlete roster.
First though, the athletes must qualify for Rio, so they are spending this season fine-tuning their training regimens and carefully selecting the competitions they will enter.
“We have a plan, and it’ll start with that selection race and roll that into Worlds,” said Berenyi, who also won a silver and bronze medal at the 2012 Games. “We have a World Cup in Belgium in May, and I’m also focused on that. Other than that, it’s just a lot of training.”
At London 2012, the US squad collected 17 medals - 12 in road cycling and five in track cycling - to tie Germany for the most medals of any country at the Games.
A total of 50 sets of medals will be up for grabs in Rio: 28 men’s, 20 women’s and two mixed.
The track World Championships will be held 12-21 March in Montichiari, Italy, while the US Paralympic Team Trials will be held in Charlotte in July. By the time 4 July – the country’s Independence Day – arrives, the US team that will travel to Rio will largely have taken shape.
“We’ve added 11 or 12 athletes since 2012 who have proven themselves with World Championships,” Berenyi said. “I think we’ve got a great talent pool that’s been coming up.”
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs).
The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.
Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.