GB para-cyclists face strong competition at London 2012

By Simon BrothertonCommentator
British para-cycling team
Great Britain won 17 medals in Los Angeles

Britain's para-cyclists look in good shape for the London Olympics after the World Championships that concluded in Los Angeles on Sunday, but there's food for thought too as the level of competition continues to rise across the board in a sport that has only been included in the Paralympics since 1996 in Atlanta.

The level of British dominance in Beijing at the last games four years ago was extraordinary, with 17 golds, and they once again topped the medal table here with eight gold, seven silver and two bronze, but others are stepping up their game noticeably.

GB lead coach Chris Furber said he had expected the standard to rise, but admitted the level of competition had been tougher than anticipated, with Australia very competitive, Ireland taking a real step forward and the emergence again in a Paralympic year of China with some very talented riders.

Multiple world and Paralympic champions like Sarah Storey, Jody Cundy and Darren Kenny are still at the forefront of the sport, but perhaps the biggest plus from this past week from a British point of view is that we have a new star to add to the list of more established riders.

Welshman Mark Colbourne won gold and silver here, yet is still relatively new to the sport, having broken his back in a para-gliding accident only three years ago.

He won a silver medal at the Para-Road Worlds last autumn, but really took the C1 class by storm in the individual pursuit at the Home Depot Center.

So much so in fact, that Germany complained and the governing body, the UCI, decided to send him to see the chief classifier again to determine whether he should be moved into another class.

This all happened in the middle of the day between the qualifying ride and the final, but Colbourne, also mourning the death of his father, was unfazed and went on to catch his opponent in the gold-medal race and claim a first rainbow jersey.

He added a silver in the C1 kilometre the next morning, beaten by a fraction of a second, but the main point is that he has all the qualities on and off the bike to become a major figure at the London Paralympics.

Holding the world championships in sunny California at the complex where David Beckham and his LA Galaxy team-mates are currently in pre-season training sounds like a great idea, and it was, but the location may not have helped the British team.

Several riders said their legs didn't feel good before or during some of the races, which may have been the remnants of jet lag with the squad not arriving in Los Angeles until five days before the competition started.

The coaches may decide to sit down in Manchester on their return and consider whether some of the riders might need to specialise more in an increasingly competitive environment, rather than race in several different disciplines, which maximises medal potential but may take off the top edge of speed or endurance, depending on the event.

The debate would centre around whether we have actually reached that point yet, but I think it's a debate worth having because one gold will be worth more than two silver medals at the London games.

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