Para-cyclists should take on Mount climb | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

Simon BROCKHOFF in the men's handcycle (MH4) time trial in Buninyong on Thursday. Picture: Lachlan Bence
Simon BROCKHOFF in the men's handcycle (MH4) time trial in Buninyong on Thursday. Picture: Lachlan Bence

ADDING para-cyclists to the nationals program in Ballarat is a start.

But it would be great to see these athletes tackle the notorious Mount Buninyong climb on the climactic weekend finale for the Cycling Australia Road National Championships.

Paralympic gold medallist Carol Cooke says this is a realistic ask.

Athletes across all divisions, including elites, contested time trials on a tough, undulating course along the Buninyong-Mount Mercer Road.

Cooke argues this course was on par, if not more challenging, than the long Mount Buninyong climb on which was a matter of a consistent cadence.

And her discipline is on the trike.

UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships in Switzerland (2015) and South Africa (2017) both served up mountainous courses.

If Cooke, an ambassador for the Australian championships, backs the Mount Buninyong climb as achievable then why should it not be considered?

Para-cyclists contested for green-and-gold road race jerseys in Cardigan Village on Friday. This is a mostly flat course, which can serve up strong head wins to challenge and slow riders.

This is the first road nationals in which para-cycling has been included and while athletes are rapt to be included in an expanded program, they are still missing out on one key stage.

Ballarat is the home of Australian cycling. But Mount Buninyong is our masterpiece.

Cooke says some people get scared of tackling Mount Buninyong but the most formidable part was in its name – the Mount part – when really, it was about finding rhythm.

As part of last year’s championships, Cooke helped lead a Cycling Australia SheRides session coaching everyday women on their bikes to the summit so they could ride the nationals course in a non-threatening environment.

It was about belief.

Facing repeat climbs up Mount Buninyong can create massive hurdles for even the elites.

Debate has long bubbled about whether the Buninyong course favours the climbers (history shows otherwise).

Modifications for this year will instead replace the downhill Fisken Road dash with a technical section through Federation University’s Mount Helen campus.

The change has the potential to put more riders in contention in closing stages. It is a new challenge, keeping the trademark climb.

ROLE MODEL: South Australian Meg Lemon, who sustained a brain injury, has to overcome balance, sensory and physical issues to ride but finds inspiration in the hurdles her rivals are clearing. Picture: Craig Holloway

ROLE MODEL: South Australian Meg Lemon, who sustained a brain injury, has to overcome balance, sensory and physical issues to ride but finds inspiration in the hurdles her rivals are clearing. Picture: Craig Holloway

Each para-cyclist has their unique difference and challenges to overcome. This is what reigning Australian C4 road champion Meg Lemon says allows them to find inspiration in each other and to keep setting the bar higher.

We get a taste of this from the para-cyclists this year in competition but also from their training rides about our streets.

And para-cyclists have been relishing a chance to get a taste of Ballarat, to be part of the nationals vibe as elite athletes in their own right.

Para-cyclists are not here just to have a go, they are here to win national road titles and why should this not mean Buninyong.

POWER: Each para-cyclist has their way of getting the job done but is elite athlete in their own right when it comes to nationals at Buninyong. Picture: Lachlan Bence

POWER: Each para-cyclist has their way of getting the job done but is elite athlete in their own right when it comes to nationals at Buninyong. Picture: Lachlan Bence