Same mission: para-cyclists hungry for national crown in Ballarat

ROLE MODEL: World-class rider Meg Lemon (South Australian Sports Institute) says it is surreal to finally share the nationals stage in Ballarat and Buninyong. Picture: Craig Holloway
ROLE MODEL: World-class rider Meg Lemon (South Australian Sports Institute) says it is surreal to finally share the nationals stage in Ballarat and Buninyong. Picture: Craig Holloway

REIGNING Australian time trial and road race champion Meg Lemon said it was pretty awesome to see professional team Michelton-Scott training on Ballarat streets. It was still a little surreal to know she was here for the exact same purpose – chasing a national crown.

This is the first time the national para-cycling titles are up for grabs as part of the Cycling Australia Road National Championships in Ballarat.

Para-cyclists are used to competing with little crowd and fanfare in Australia. Lemon, a world-class competitor, had a taste of big crowds while racing in Belgium last year and said it was great to feel a similar vibe building in Ballarat.

“It means a lot to be part of the championships. You feel a little bit more acknowledgement as an athlete,” Lemon said. “We’re all really different...We see the able-bodied riders and are really inspired by them, but we also have our own para role models.

“We have a lot of acceptance and appreciation for each other. We’re all getting on with our lives and finding different ways to do that.”

Lemon sustained a brain injury when hit by a car while riding to work. Getting back on the bike changed her life.

The injury has permanently weakened the right side of her body, which can make breaking difficult, particularly on a fast down hill ride.

These physical effects classify Lemon as a C4 rider. Classification does not take into account the South Australian’s sensory issues, like sensitivity to noise, light, wind and cold.

Lemon says she is a “lop-sided” rider, who continues to work hard to re-learn everything. Then Lemon looks at her rivals – one girl has multiple-sclerosis, another a prosthetic leg – and knows they each have their own battles.

But they were all elite athletes in their own right.

Lemon learned to ride again and powered on to become a five-time Australian road champion, winning three of four world cup races she has contested and claimed two podium finishes in world championships.

Para-cyclists will be in action from Thursday in time trials along a challenging, rolling Buninyong-Mount Mercer Road. Road race titles are up for grabs in a flat Cardigan Village course on Friday. Lemon the course promoted a real open push for the green-and-gold jersey.

Cycling Australia nationals ambassador and para-cyclist Carol Cooke said inclusion in the road nationals had been a long time coming .

“I think for a long time paras were looked at as at the poor cousin and a lot of people thought it was just poor disabled people having a go. But we are elite athletes and we train like elite athletes,” Ms Cooke said.  “The atmosphere here is fantastic. Ballarat is the place to cycle and we want to be part of that.”