637 Days To Go is my blog, which was originally started with exactly 637 days until the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. And now it's been re-started with 637 days until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Thank you to ALL involved. The project is GO.

After 2 months of intense fundraising, it is my pleasure to announce I have reached my target. A big THANK YOU to the multitude of people who donated funds (little or large) towards the construction of a new cycling leg for Rio 2016.

The public crowdfunding appeal netted a significant portion of the funds. Due to a complicated fee structure with the crowdfunding site, I had to put in a significant portion of the funds myself before the campaign closed in order to avoid paying extra fees. (So the actual amount raised online is somewhat less than what you might see on the site!) But regardless of that, we still raised enough to move forward. Why? Well - because of two organisations.

As mentioned previously - Eastmond Medicomm has come on board as a key sponsor in the project  and will be along for the ride, helping document the project as we move forward. If not for them, I wouldn't have even started raising funds in the first place. They were the first ones to step forward to put up seed money and gave me hope that I could raise the rest of the money through the public appeal.

The second group I must mention is Pace Rehabilitation. Pace have been there since the very start with me, building my previous cycling prosthetics. Pace have graciously agreed to build this new leg at a discounted rate, meaning I now have the complete budget needed to complete the project at the highest level. Along with technical and aerodynamic advisor, Dr. Bryce Dyer of Bournemouth University, I am confident we will make the best possible leg for Rio.

Pace are at the forefront of prosthetic design in the UK and are now on the cutting edge when it comes to the design and manufacture of sport-specific prosthetics. I started out with them in 2011 and have won two world titles using the legs they have made for me in the past. With the advancements they have made since, I have no doubt that the leg they make for me will propel me to the next level and help bring home that Rio medal I so desperately seek!

I have hated every single second of this fundraising campaign. Asking people, over and over to donate money is something I can't stand – especially for myself. I would much rather be out there raising money for a worthy charity! But it's done now, and so many of you stepped up to help fill the void. I will never have to ask you for help for something personal again!

So keep watching. The project is now just getting started. I've seen the prototype designs. And they are spectacular. Over the coming weeks and months, Pace will be testing several new designs to see which one provides the best aerodynamic benefit – then it will be time to build one for me. And Eastmond Medicomm will be helping keep you updated. And then.... well - the sky's the limit!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Racing update: World Cup 2, Switzerland

After a LOT of driving and a quick stop off to ride the Mortirolo climb in Italy (hardest thing I've ever done), it was off to Switzerland for Round 2 of the Paracycling World Cup Series. Video of me DESCENDING off the Mortirolo climb. Short but gives an idea of how tough it was going up!: 

videoThe Swiss World Cup was always going to be a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, it featured a pan-flat out-and-back TT that suited me perfectly. On the other hand, it also had the hardest road race course we've ever raced on, with 3 different climbs of varying lengths and gradients to tackle each lap. But as I'd already scored some good qualification points in the Italy World Cup, this weekend was all about pushing myself to see what I could achieve, but without the pressure of needing a result.

The only thing I was worried about for both the TT and road race was the weather. If it stayed dry it would be much easier. In the wet - not as much. Although the TT was flat, there were a few technical turns near the finish that could cause havoc in the wet. And the road race.... well with screaming descents, the wet roads had the potential to really mess things up!

The TT day rolled around and as soon as I threw my legs over the bike to warm up I knew it was going to be a good day. All the right sensations were there. The weather was playing nice and even the wind was blowing a light breeze instead of the howling head/tail it had been in training the day before.

I rolled down the start ramp and quickly got into my aero tuck - making sure not to go too hard right from the start. Even though it was a short TT, I had to make sure not to overdo it for the first few minutes. I settled into my rhythm nicely and as I hit the long, straight stretch of road, started to put the power out nicely.

Hitting the turn at the far end of the course, I accelerated back towards the start/finish, still feeling strong. The nice thing about long, straight roads is you can see up ahead and the people you are chasing. Approaching the last few KMs, I was surprised to see I was catching my minute-man - the guy I had pegged as my main competition. If I had caught him already, I was either having a great ride or he was having a horrible one.

As we hit the technical section at the end of the course I had to sit up a bit so as to not tangle with him through the corners, but managed to power past him on another straight stretch before the final turns into the finish.

I crossed the line and waited. There were still 2 riders to start after me but as they crossed the line it was confirmed - I had won again. And by a huge margin: over 1 minute! Turns out I was having a great ride! 
Powering to the win in the TT

After a day off, it was back to business: road race time. Unfortunately the weather decided it wasn't go to play ball this time. It was cool and raining. It meant it was going to add to the misery of trying to hang onto the climbers in the race, and wasn't going to be able to make up ground on the descents.

The race started and I was immediately on the back foot. As we made up way up the first drag I was already feeling under pressure. We made the turn onto the first sharp climb and as predicted, the race exploded. Riders hammered their way up the sharp incline and I started going backwards. I opted to ride a steady pace - thinking I would regain contact with the group over the top. Huge mistake.

Turns out I was only 11 seconds slower than the main group over that climb. But that was enough for a gap to form. And I never managed to close it again. So now it was going to be about seeing what I could do on my own.

I rode on and came up on another rider - a guy I like to call 'my nemesis'. We have gone head-to-head several times in sprint. And he has always beaten me (although he HAS won the Worlds time in the road race). We worked together to try and catch the riders ahead (to no avail) but more importantly to keep ahead of the riders behind us.

We managed to catch up with his teammate and from that point on I felt like the 2 of them were trying to work me over. One would jump up the road and if I chased after, the other would sit on my wheel and jump past me if we caught up. I just kept riding within myself though.

As we hit the last long climb the final time I decided to push on as hard as I could. The lighter of the two riders powered off up the climb ahead of me. I tried to hold his wheel but soon realised I would blow if I did. I settled into a pace I could sustain for the duration of the climb.

I looked behind me to see I had dropped the other rider. I kept pushing on, thinking to myself that I wanted to break him on the climb. No way did I want to bring him to the line again with me.

As we neared the top, he had closed the gap a little, and as the road flattened out - me managed to ride back up to my wheel. I had decided that no matter what, I would attack on the final lap in a certain spot - and true to myself I did so. I jumped off his rear wheel and sprinted up the road. This gave me a head start into the last descent towards the finish. I could see his teammate up ahead (who wasn't able to descend as fast as us).

Unfortunately, slowly but surely the chasing rider pegged me back again. And as we hit the final sharp bend in the road, I got my line wrong and had to hit the brakes. He dived down the inside of me and made the run towards the line. I kept my cool and accelerated after him. As we got to 500m to go, we caught and passed his teammate. With about 100m to go, I was right on his wheel and he was looking back to see where I was. And I jumped again - using the slipstream to power past him and taking the 'win' from him. 

OK, so it was only for 10th place but it was still a victory of sorts! I had finally beaten him in a sprint. And that... was enough for me!