The Great Britain Paracycling Squad returned victorious from the Tandem Tour of Belgium after a stunning display of team work from Rhiannon Henry and Fiona Duncan resulted in a win for Lora Turnham and Corinne Hall.
The existing pairing of Lora Turnham and Fiona Duncan who won gold at the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup in Segovia, Spain last year were split up, giving Paralympic Development Programme athlete Corinne Hall the opportunity to race with Lora, whilst Fiona Duncan piloted the new Academy stoker Rhiannon Henry.
Turnham and Hall took the victory from a nine-strong field, with coach Tom Stanton identifying only the New Zealand and Italian teams missing from an otherwise world class line-up.
“It was a fairly good representation of what the racing looks like at the moment,” explains Stanton. “Going into the race, I was conservative with my expectations, it was more about getting experience of racing for the new pairings. On day one, Lora and Corinne put 22 seconds into the field on the prologue time trial which to be honest, I didn’t expect so I was really impressed with it. It was an outstanding performance and it really set them up on the GC. They went on to hold their own in the road race that afternoon, finishing second which kept them in the leader’s jersey.”
An impressive first day for Lora and Corinne meant the team had to review their tactics for the remaining three days. “We made the decision that if we wanted to focus on the GC, then Rhiannon and Fiona were going to have to play a support role and sacrifice their chances over the next three days to ensure that Lora and Corinne were put in a position where they didn’t lose any time. And so that’s what we did.”
The 2.5km time trial at the Hulshout track on day three proved another significant day for Lora and Corinne. “It was an outdoor concrete track and the weather conditions were just awful,” recalls Stanton. “Lora and Corinne put another great performance in, and finished eighth in the total table, beating a lot of the men’s tandems which was brilliant and was another boost to the GC. It meant that going into the afternoon race they were in a strong position where they just had to hold their lead and make the rest of the field work.”
The fourth and final day in Essen gave Tom and the girls something to think about when the new Polish pairing demonstrated their strength and speed after they punctured and had to make up a 40 second gap. “Day four was perhaps the most interesting for us” asserts Stanton. “The new Polish pairing had been consistently strong and had been on the podium every single day, whether time trial or road race, and we knew they were going to be dangerous. They punctured very early on whilst in the bunch and got spat out the back with a 40 second gap and they made it up over the subsequent 18 laps. So that was a huge performance from them and something that we need to make sure we’re aware of in the future! The bunch was drilled by the Dutch on the front and our girls just sat confidently sat on their wheels and commanded their position right to the finish where they came sixth. This was good enough to keep their GC position and they finished 25 seconds ahead overall. I really have to pay tribute to Rhiannon and Fiona’s performance in Belgium – they went out there and buried themselves every single day to keep Lora and Corinne in contention for the GC.”
Lora and Corinne’s win in which they successfully defended the leader’s jersey day after day has given the GB Paracycling Coaches something to think about at this early stage of the season. Stanton explains: “It’s really thrown the cat amongst the pigeons. It was our intention to change the pairings around to try new combinations out to see what will work best for us at the World Cups. Our challenge now is the recognition that in order to command a tandem bike race you need two bikes and it becomes less about individual tandem performances and more about a team performance and understanding how that fits in with the riders that we have.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season and the opportunities to try out this new tactic, Stanton muses: “We’ve got two back-to-back World Cups coming up - Merano in Italy and Segovia in Spain – and that’s going to be an opportunity for us to compete against a full field to better understand where we fit in the final run up to the World Championships in Canada later this year.”