Head coach Jon Norfolk is hoping for some ‘green shoots of development’ and an affirmation of the form of his team’s podium athletes as the Great Britain Para-Cycling Team faces its first competitive track outing since the London 2012 Paralympic Games at the Newport International Para-Cycling Cup.
The three-day event takes place in the Wales National Velodrome in Newport from 29 November to 1 December and will attract a world-class field against which Norfolk hopes to benchmark his team’s progress.
With no world cup or world championship level events on the track in 2013, the Newport International Para-Cycling Cup has a special significance in the development and motivation of Norfolk’s current crop of athletes.
"We’re looking to see some green shoots of development from certain athletes and a reconfirmation of the form that our podium athletes have.”
Jon Norfolk, Head Coach, Great Britain Para-cycling Team
“It is a challenge with para-cycling calendar not being as heavily populated as the able bodied calendar,” said Norfolk. “So we need to be very creative and proactive in terms of which events are out there and what events we use to stretch and to push the guys as well.
“Everyone gets into the sport to race and to stand on top of podiums and to be successful and to push themselves with everything that they’ve got and its key that we give them the opportunity to do that.”
Great Britain’s most successful Paralympian Dame Sarah Storey makes her return to racing following the birth of her child. Storey will ride the 500 metre time trial and 3 km pursuit and is keen to get back into competition and test her form in Newport.
“It’s great to be back on track,” said Storey. “Form is coming gradually and slowly so it will be interesting to see where I’m at. There’s no pressure on my results. I jokingly said to someone last week that my target for the event is just to finish!”
Fellow Paralympian Jody Cundy is set to ride team sprint, pursuit, kilometre and scratch race and relishes the chance to compete at the top level again.
Cundy comes into the event in great form after setting a new world record in the one kilometre time trial at the British Cycling Track Championships in September.
“We’re trying to use this as a stepping stone depending on whether there’s a world championships,” said Cundy. “It’s not a big hit-out for us but it will be good to post some good performances against our fellow competitors.”
Away from established winners like Storey and Cundy, the chance to try out new riders and new combinations in the tandem is one that Jon Norfolk is keen to capitalise upon in Newport.
Rachel James sprang to prominence in the 2012 national track championships, winning gold in the team sprint with her world champion sister Becky. Rachel returned in 2013 and took two bronze medals in the team sprint (with Ellie Coster) and in the keirin.
Rachel will be paired with Sophie Thornhill on the tandem; a new combination with just a few week’s experience together. Thornhill took two gold medals in the national championships in the 1km time trial and the 200 metre flying lap, piloted by Helen Scott.
Together they will target the kilometre and the kilometre time trial and the pursuit and, despite the lack of preparation time, are gelling well according to Norfolk.
“They both bring very different things to a tandem,” said Norfolk. “Rachel’s trained down in Newport in Wales so she’s back on her home turf this week.
“Sophie’s ridden with a number of pilots now so she’s bringing some good experience to the game. Rachel is bringing a lot of firepower to the front. Sophie’s doing a lot of steering from the back in terms of her experience.”
“We’ve only been together four or five weeks now,” said Thornhill, who went on to say that despite not having a consistent block on the track, her and partner James were clicking well together.
“Times are coming down,” added James. “There’s a huge amount to work on but it feels like there’s a lot there anyway.
The line-up for Newport sees a number of newer development and academy riders amid established podium riders like Storey, Cundy, Darren Kenny, Jon Allan Butterworth, Neil Fachie and Lora Turnham.
Olympic Development Programme rider Matt Ellis will ride the tandem piloted by CC Cardiff rider Ieuan Williams while Academy rider Rhiannon Henry is piloted by Podium Programme rider Lauryn Therin. Development programme riders Andy Kelsey, Jaco van Gass, John Gildea and Jonathan Wren also get their first taste of international track action.
“It’s a very different event for different athletes,” concluded Norfolk. “So we’re looking to see some green shoots of development from certain athletes and a reconfirmation of the form that our podium athletes have.”
The Newport International Para-Cycling Cup begins on Friday 29 November at the Wales National Velodrome, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The evening sessions - Friday 29 November 7pm – 10pm, Saturday 30 November 7pm – 10pm and Sunday 1 December 3pm – 7pm - are ticketed and tickets have to be booked in advance.
Prices are £5 for adults and £2.50 for juniors.