Irish duo Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal have dominated the B time trial at the Paralympics Games, adding gold to the gold medal they took five years ago in Rio.
The tandem pairing were fastest at each of the checkpoints, extending their advantage over chief rivals Lora Fachie and Corrine Hall (team Britain), and were a clear minute in front at the end of the 32 kilometre test.
They recorded a time of 47 minutes 32.07 seconds over the Fuji Speedway course, with Fachie and Hall on 48.32.06 and the Swedes Louise Jannering and Anna Svärdström a further one minute and four second back in third.
Dunlevy and McCrystal will take particular satisfaction at beating Fachie and Hall; the Britons had the edge on the Irish riders in Saturday’s individual pursuit, and also beat them by half a minute in the time trial at Paracycling’s road world championships in June.
However after that silver medal - and another silver medal behind a different British duo in that championship's road race - they told The Irish Times then that they believed they could go on to take gold in Tokyo. And so it turned out; they dazzled the field with their ride on Tuesday morning, and were clearly best.
The gold medal adds to a highly impressive career haul for the pairing. Aside from their gold and silver medals in the Rio Paralympics, they have also clocked up considerable success at the Paracycling road world championships. They won the time trial on three occasions, and have two gold and one silver medal in the road race.
Dunlevy and McCrystal have also taken two bronze medals in the world championship individual pursuit.
“I knew we were onto a good ride. I could just feel it. I could feel it actually before we went [OUT],” said Dunlevy. “I was saying, ‘we are going to win this,’ I really wanted it. We wanted to do a good ride and just get the best out of ourselves. And hope to get a medal, hope to get gold. To come away and retain our title is just what we have been working towards for the last five years. So it means the world.”
Dunlevy was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at 11 years of age. Her vision impairment means that McCrystal acts as her eyes, and that she must trust her fully with her safety. That was particularly important on the twisting four lap course, where good bike handling could make a difference.
“It was really technical,” Dunlevy said. “On a ride like that with a tandem, it is about keeping the bike moving. I can’t see, so I am trying to feel the bike, just keep it fluid with Eve and just keep the momentum of the bike going. It was really technical, she did a great job of steering it, it felt really good.”
McCrystal, a member of An Garda Síochána based in Ardee, County Louth, took satisfaction from this. “I think I did it well,” she laughed. “That is what I was really nervous of, I think more so than the fitness or the power. It was the technical aspect of that course I was just a little bit afraid of. I didn’t really put that on Katie.
“On the first lap we were five seconds up. I think we are better ahead than chasing. I just said in my head, ‘I am not letting this go now.’ We just went for it.
“On the last lap I was hanging on for dear life, but you just have that extra motivation when you know you are 35, 40 seconds up going on the last lap. That just gives a bit of oomph to empty yourself . . . I just think we are after doing the ride of our lives. I can’t believe it.”
There was also success on Tuesday for hand cyclist Gary O'Reilly in the H5 time trial. The handcyclist took a fine bronze medal in his race, recording a time of 39 minutes 36.46 seconds. Dutch rider Mitch Valize triumphed with 38 minutes 12.94 seconds, over a minute ahead of the French competitor Loic Vergnaud.
“I’m completely shocked to be honest. I didn’t expect to get the medal,” O’Reilly said. “I’m just absolutely delighted. I am so happy to have done it for everyone at home - I did it for them. All my family, my wife Hazel, are up watching it. I’m sure they’re as happy as I am.”
He showed determination during the competition, having being down at the early time splits he persisted and ended up with the bronze medal.
“I think I was 20 seconds down on podium on first lap but I had Neill [Delahaye, the team coach] in my ear telling me to stick to the plan. I came back up on time then with the second lap and started putting time into then. Thankfully it worked.”
In the other events, Ronan Grimes took sixth in the C4 time trial, won by Patrik Kuril of Slovakia. Richael Timothy was 14th in the women's C1-3 time trial, where Keiko Sugiura of Japan was quickest.
O’Reilly will be back in action on Wednesday when he competes in the H5 road race. Dunlevy and McCrystal will go again on Friday in the B road race and, following their glittering success in the time trial, they will be gunning to improve on the silver medal they took in Rio five summers ago.
Remaining road events schedule (times listed are Irish)
Wednesday, September 1st:
Men’s H5 road race: Gary O’Reilly, 1:30am to 3:38am
Friday, September 3rd:
Men’s C4-5 road race: Ronan Grimes, 1:30am to 3:42am
Women’s C1-C3 road race: Richael Timothy,1:35am to 2:47am
Women’s B road race: Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal, 5:00am to 7:30am
Men's B road race: Martin Gordon and Martin Byrne, 5:18am to 7:45am