SPORTS

Weldon, Bessette look to road race after Paralympic time trial disappointment

09/05/2012 05:51 EDT | Updated 11/05/2012 05:12 EST
LONDON - Just to be clear, Robbi Weldon says, she's the rider on the back of the bike and not the front.

The blind cyclist says she's actually been asked if she's the pilot of her tandem bike.

"That's a little bit of a danger to have the blind one on the front," Weldon says wryly.

After just missing a Paralympic Games medal in Wednesday's time trial with a fourth-place finish, Weldon and pilot Lyne Bessette remain medal contenders for Saturday's road race at Brands Hatch.

Weldon, "the stoker," is the rear engine and Bessette propels and controls the bike from the front.

Weldon's leg turnover has to mirror Bessette's in both pace and pressure because they're both pedalling on a single chain.

"It doesn't allow one to pedal harder than the other," explains Weldon. "If one does pedal harder than the other they're going to blow up their legs and their effort is going to be too much, more than they can handle."

Weldon, from Thunder Bay, Ont., has six per cent vision because of Stargardt's disease, a condition of macular degeneration. She relies on both verbal and non-verbal cues from Bessette when they race.

Weldon listens for prompts such as "rhythm" for cadence, "power" for acceleration and "up" for rising off the saddle,

"It's an eight-and-a half-foot-long bike so if you stand up at the wrong time, the bike wobbles all over the place," Weldon says.

The two women train with heart monitors so Bessette can gauge how their bodies handle workloads.

"We practise over and over, hundreds of hours practising with our heart-rate monitors and Lyne watching my heart rate, along with hers and us knowing what our zones are," Weldon says. "We're always communicating on a scale out of 10 what our effort is on our bike."

Weldon, who turns 37 on Thursday, is a two-sport Paralympian. She cross-country skied for Canada at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C. The mother of two was fifth in the 15-kilometre race and sixth in the 5k.

Even before those Games, Weldon also wanted to be a Paralympian on two wheels. Within two weeks of the 2010 closing ceremonies, Weldon called the Canadian Cycling Association to ask "if I had the potential at 35 years old, if I have what it takes to be on the back of a tandem."

Bessette, from Knowlton, Ont., cycled for Canada at the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics with her best result 16th in the time trial in '04. She'd been retired from professional cycling for the two years required for her to be a pilot in para-cycling.

Within weeks of joining forces, Weldon and Bessette won both the road race and time trial at the 2010 world para-cycling championship. They defended their time trial gold and were fifth in the road race in 2011.

While Weldon analysed their failure to win a medal Wednesday, Bessette didn't grant post-race interviews.

"We knew it was going to be a difficult race," Weldon said. "It's like a roller-coaster out there. There's no flats. It's all climbing and quick descents.

"We put in our best effort and today there's three that gave a little bit more oomph than us today. Unfortunately we finished fourth but I'm still very proud of our performance and really looking forward to the road race."

Bessette, 37, later issued a statement through the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

"We are really upset," Bessette said. "It did not work like we planned. We knew that we could win.

"We have done it at the last world championship and during all the World Cup season. We are both really in shape but today, there were three tandems that were better then us. It's over. We now need to turn the page and focus on the road race coming up."

The Dutch team of Kathrin Goeken and pilot Kim van Dijk took gold, followed by Philippa Gray and Laura Thompson of New Zealand in second.

Catherine Walsh and Francine Meehan of Ireland were third. The Canadians finished 45.21 seconds out of the lead.

Weldon and Bessette employ employ non-verbal communication in the road race so the competition around them doesn't learn their tactics.

"I can tell just by the feel of the pedal if Lyne is wanting to go," Weldon says. "I can take a cue just from the impact on the pedals.

"Lots of strategy out here. There's lots of hills. Lyne and I can hurt a lot and we'll try and see how much we can stretch the field out to try and win the race."

The Canadian para-cycling team didn't finish the first day of road racing empty-handed. Marie-Claude Molnar of Lemoyne, Que., earned bronze in the women's C4 time trial, which is athletes with an amputation, brain injury or cerebral palsy.

“This medal takes the pressure off the team," Molnar said. "We looked at the chances of medals today and we are all happy to win this first medal."

In other races, Daniel Chalifour of Lac-des-ecorces, Que., and his pilot Alexandre Cloutier of Quebec City were also fourth in the men's time trial for visually impaired. Genevieve Ouellet of Amos, Que., and Emilie Roy of St-Cuthbert, Que., finished eighth behind their Canadian teammates in the women's race.

Calgarians Brayden McDougall was seventh and Jaye Milley ninth in the men's C1 time trial. Arnold Boldt of Osler, Sask., was 12th in the men's C2.

Toronto's Mark Ledo was ninth, Robert Labbe of St-Neree-deBellechasse, Que., was 10th and Mark Beggs of Trois-Rivieres, Que., 11th in their respective hand-cycling races. Shelley Gautier of Niagara Falls, Ont., placed 11th in the mixed tricycle time trial for athletes with brain injury or cerebral palsy.

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