NATIONALS are supposed to be tough and this is why para-athletes belong on Buninyong, Paralympian Carol Cooke says.
The notoriously tough Mount Buninyong climb has long been a sticking point for contesting the para-cycling titles in town with the elites for Cycling Australia Road National Championships.
Cooke said each athlete who made the climb proved to themselves, the crowd and officials they could do it.
World champion Emilie Miller, who is a quadriplegic, took 55 minutes to make the climb on a handcycle and enjoyed every moment.
“It’s a tough course but fun, I’ll come back,” the Bathurst-based athlete said. “It’s a long climb but worth it when you start the downhill. You just get around the first corner and find a good rhythm.”
Para-cyclists have praised the community support lining the course, especially up the climb, with cow bells and loud horns.
The para-cycling road races, first added to the RoadNats program last year, shifted to Buninyong from a flatter course in Cardigan.
Cooke said the difference with crowds was incredible and hoped athletes’ success would encourage more para-cyclists to take up the challenge next summer.
"We're so used to being on our own. Now, to have our titles on the nationals course is absolutely fabulous,” Cooke said. “Kids were at the corner, at the bottom of the mountain, screaming for us. People must have had programs – it was great, they were cheering us on calling out our names.”
Cooke, who has multiple sclerosis, was one of 16 para-athletes to claim a green-and-gold jersey on Saturday.
Racing followed a record number of riders in action for the national Gran Fondo Championships on the Buninyong course. More than 450 people got on their bikes for the largest participation event held at RoadNats.
This year’s Gran Fondo raised money and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis, the national support body for people with the neurological condition.
“Supporting MS in the event, before the para-cycling, is right at the heart of everything I stand for and for me, it’s acceptance for para-athletes as equals who ride in different ways,” Cooke said. “It’s important to raise awareness for what is the most common neurological condition in Australia.”
Para-cyclists are next in action for time trials on Monday and Tuesday.
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