On what would have been race day for the women’s sprint tandems at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, British Cycling is delighted to report the success of the recent Stoker Search Talent ID Weekend to find a new blind or visually impaired female stoker to ride on the back of the women’s tandem sprint bike next year.
The retirement of the reigning Paralympic champion Sophie Thornhill in June this year kickstarted the search for a new stoker who could compete alongside pilot Helen Scott at the rescheduled Paralympic Games in 2021. It is a campaign which Jon Pett, Head of Para-cycling at British Cycling, has described as ‘para-cycling’s most successful talent ID campaign for a single classification in this country’.
Following social media activity on British Cycling’s channels publicising the opportunity, over 40 blind or visually impaired females applied. Of those, 23 were invited to attend the Stoker Search Talent ID Weekend which took place at the HSBC UK National Cycling Centre from 15 – 16 August, which was carefully planned to comply with DCMS guidance on social distancing and elite sport in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The women and girls were put through their paces on Saturday 15th, with a series of power tests during the day, under the watchful eye of Helen, Corrine Hall (endurance pilot) and staff from both the Great Britain Cycling Team’s Olympic and Paralympic programmes. This was followed by a question and answer session with stokers Lora Fachie, Neil Fachie, James Ball and Steve Bate to gain a real insight into the life of an elite para-cyclist.
The power testing enabled the coaches to identify which candidates were showing potential, and on Sunday 16th those identified were given the opportunity to ride on the back of the tandem on the velodrome boards with Helen. For the majority, this marked their first experience of track cycling. For those candidates whose power testing results didn’t quite make the grade, they still got to experience track cycling, riding with the other pilots from the Great Britain Cycling Team.
Jon Pett explains: “I’m very pleased with how the Stoker Search Talent ID Weekend went.
“Helen has high aspirations to defend her Paralympic title in Tokyo, and it is our job as the Great Britain Cycling Team to support her. It was gratifying to see so many staff and riders get behind this campaign and offer their time to help run the weekend’s activities.
“I’m pleased to say that we are in a position to take forward three potential stokers onto the next phase of selection, with the intent to make our final selection by the end of this calendar year. In addition to this success, we were able to identify riders with real development potential with whom we will continue to engage with looking ahead to Paris and LA.”
Helen Scott said: “I couldn’t be happier with the progress we’re making in finding a new stoker to compete with me in Tokyo, and I’m grateful for everyone’s time and hard work in supporting this project.
“I enjoyed the Stoker Search Talent ID Weekend, and I’m really looking forward to working with the three potential candidates over the coming months. As well as being a full-time rider, I am a qualified coach and I’m looking forward to having some involvement in that aspect of the project, as I think it will be really good for my development as well as the new stoker’s.
“I’ve been clear that my ambition to be crowned Paralympic champion again has not changed, and I feel like I’m back in a really positive place now to be able to achieve this.”
British Cycling will be documenting Helen’s journey to Tokyo and look forward to confirming the successful candidate in due course.