Great Britain Paralympian Karen Darke is looking to take time trial gold when she competes in the 2014 UCI Para Cycling Road World Championships in Greenville, South Carolina later this week.
The 43-year-old from Hebden Bridge had an inspiring start to her season with a gold medal in the first round of the UCI Para-cycling World Cup in Italy last May.
She followed this up in July at the world cup in Segovia, Spain with two bronze medals, one in the time trial and a further one in the road race.
“It’s gone really well,” she exclaimed.
“The first world cup of the season I got a gold medal in the time trial the in the second world cup, I got two bronzes and I have done well in some other races generally, pulling out some good performances”
This is made all the more impressive as Darke was forced to take a year out of competition in 2013 as a result of being hit by a car whilst on a training ride in Cumbria.
“I am really pleased how my performances have gone this year mainly because I missed the whole of last season due to me being hit by a car and I had nerve damage in my arm.
“ I wasn’t sure at all coming into this season where I was going to sit in the field and whether I was still going to be competitive at the moment or not.”
Darke is anticipating that this will be no easy ride, with the standard of racing having seen an exponential rise in performance levels over the last year alone.
“It’s going to be really interesting going into the worlds this year because the standard in my class has really crept up there is a lot more women participating and the standard is high,” she said.
“In the past, I would never say you could predict the race because anything can happen but you could pretty much have a good guess at what the pecking order would be.
“This year I would say that there are quite a few girls where we are really quite close and depending on who has that good race and whose day it is, it could go anyway, so I’m hoping it will be my day but we’ll see,” confirmed Darke.
This year’s championships will pose further challenges for Darke and many other athletes who are not used to the climatic conditions. The location in South Carolina has a hot and humid weather system that Darke, along with many of her fellow competitors, will not be familiar with.
“The worlds this year are in South Carolina so the climate is going to be different than anything any of us have experienced before.
“It’s due to be quite hot, apparently there is a difference between the temperature and the feel factor. The feel temperature is going to be close to 40 degrees Celsius with 80 per cent humidity, so really hot and humid compared to what we are used to.”
With this in mind, the team have been working in the lab trying to replicate conditions and help athletes acclimatise to the alien environment they could potentially face.
“We have been doing some practice at trying to pedal in some heat which has been interesting. It is really interesting how quickly your body seems to adapt to the temperature,” Darke explained.
“Obviously doing everything you can do to prepare for the environment you are going in to, knowing the course, knowing the climate, having adapted to the conditions as much as possible and making your training as specific as possible to the course.
“We’ve done all these things so hopefully it will come through and I ll put in the performance I know I can do so hopefully we can pull it off.”
Darke knows that she has a real chance of coming away with the world title and a rainbow jersey after some highly encouraging markers this season. Whilst she acknowledges that anything can happen, she admits that in this situation you inevitably pile the pressure on yourself.
“I think the main pressure that I feel is usually from myself, I think because I know that I can win, because I have won, particularly in the time trial.
“I am not quite there with the road racing this year but with the time trial I know that I won in Italy so I know that I have it in me so I have put the pressure on myself.
“Realistically, we are still two years out from Rio and I am coming back after a season out with injury so I have got to bear that in mind. At the same time, I don’t want to use that as an excuse.”
Darke will compete in the women’s H2 category time trial on Saturday 30 August followed by the H2 category road race on Monday 1 September.