Walsh closes in on Cooke in cycling road race

With Rio 2016 under a year away, seasoned veteran Cooke and upstart challenger Walsh make for an interesting rivalry in the T2 class. 18 Sep 2015
Woman on bike competing

The USA's Jill Walsh competes at the 2014 Para-Cycling Road World Championships in Greenville.

ⒸCasey B. Gibson
By Sean Cartell | For the IPC

"Carol is a very strong cyclist who has been at the top for several years. My goal this year (at Worlds) was to cut Carol's lead on me in half."

With under a year to go until the Rio 2016 Paralympics, the USA’s Jill Walsh knows she has to keep pedalling despite her recent victory at the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships in August.

Walsh dethroned Australia’s defending world champion Carol Cooke in the women’s T2 road race by just six seconds in Nottwil, Switzerland. Cooke had been dominating the classification since beginning the sport in 2011. But Walsh burst on the scene last year after winning a pair of medals (silver in the road race and bronze in the time trial) at the 2014 UCI Para-Cycling World Championships.

The New York, USA, native followed up her performance from Nottwil with gold in the mixed time trial T1-2 later in August at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games. Her focus with one year out is to qualify for the US team that will compete in Rio.

"I am still in the learning stages of cycling, listening to my coach, the team coaches and other riders, absorbing as much as I can," said Walsh, who transitioned from triathlon. "The US has a very strong team of women, and right now my goal is to be on the roster. Our national selection event is not until the end of June, so my job is to just keep pedalling."

Walsh will also have to keep a close watch on rival and seasoned veteran Cooke, who was not too far behind at Worlds, finishing the road race in 58:58.

"Carol is a very strong cyclist who has been at the top for several years," Walsh said. "My goal this year (at Worlds) was to cut Carol's lead on me in half."

In fact, the two athletes have similar backgrounds.

Both have multiple sclerosis and found success quickly upon taking up para-cycling. They also were formerly in law enforcement. Cooke worked for the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force in the undercover drug squad, while Walsh is a retired New York State Trooper.

"We have messaged each other and chatted at races," Walsh said. "We laugh about the fact that her winter is my summer, and my long northern winter is her summer. As for our law-enforcement backgrounds, our time together to talk at events is so short that we have not been able to talk much about our careers yet, but I hope we get that opportunity."

Walsh welcomes their rivalry on the para-cycling scene, as she believes it shows the growth in the sport.

"Competition is what makes a sport," Walsh said. "It keeps you honest in your training –wondering what more your opponent is doing. I think it can only add to the sport."

While Walsh defeated Cooke in the road race in Nottwil, Cooke retained her crown in the time trial, the event she won gold in London 2012; Walsh took the time trial silver in Nottwil.

Considering Cooke’s experience, Walsh understands she has much to learn in para-cycling as she pursues her first Paralympic medal.

"I started working with a cycling coach and I am making the transition from being an endurance triathlete to a cyclist," Walsh said. "At first I found it difficult switching from distance to short and fast, but I am learning. My goal for the 2016 season is to become a stronger, more consistent cyclist."

Tickets for Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are now on sale to residents of Brazil. Overseas fans, meanwhile, should contact the authorised ticket resellers (ATRs) in their territories.

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