Dunlevy and McCrystal win gold in road race to claim third medal at Paralympics

Duo’s powerful surge close to line sees them finish seven second ahead of British rivals

Eve McCrystal and Katie George Dunlevy celebrate with their gold medals after winning the Women’s B road race at the Fuji International Speedway at the Paralympics. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Eve McCrystal and Katie George Dunlevy celebrate with their gold medals after winning the Women’s B road race at the Fuji International Speedway at the Paralympics. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

 

A powerful surge close to the line brought to an end Ireland’s storming cycling campaign at the Paralympics on Friday, with Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal capping off a superb week with their third medal in seven days. The duo made their move on a climb inside the final 2km of a washed-out tandem road race, finishing seven seconds clear of their British rivals Sophie Unwin and Jenny Holl plus the Swedes Louise Jannering and Anna Svaerdstroem.

In taking the road race victory, Dunlevy and McCrystal improved on the silver medal they had secured in Rio. On Tuesday, they successfully defended their time trial title from five years ago, and last Saturday they took the silver medal in the individual pursuit. The sequence of results is the highlight of their careers, and adds to the five gold medals they have amassed in the Paracycling world championships since 2017.

Friday’s victory came after the Irish and Swedish riders worked together to fend off a frantic chase by the time trial silver medallists, Lora Fachie and Corrine Hall. The British duo had mechanical issues early on and lost over two minutes. The Irish/Swedish collaboration prevented them rejoining, but also gave the other British tandem an armchair ride to the finish.

That set up the possibility that Unwin and Holl would outsprint Dunlevy and McCrystal at the line, just as they did to win the world championship road race in June, but the Irish riders were powerful enough on the final climb to rewrite that script.

Stressful race

“We were with the strongest bikes, people who had beaten us in the sprint in Portugal in June at the Worlds,” said McCrystal. “We knew we couldn’t take them to the line. We had to go, wherever worked best.

“That is the most stressful race I have ever done in my life as a pilot, just with the weather and the corners. The Swedish really put it to us on the technical parts of the course. She [the tandem pilot] was such a good bike handler.

“Gaps came on the corners, it was a lot of work to get them back. The climb was tough every lap. I found it so stressful. I can’t believe we are after winning, I am just shocked.”

Dunlevy said that all the hard work they put into their preparation was what made the difference. “We were losing ground in the technical bits on each lap. We were closing gaps and then trying to get away ourselves but our fitness and our strength stood to us,” she said. “In there at the end we were able to use that strength and fitness and hold it to the line. That is down to all the time we have put into it – into our strength and fitness.

“But to be honest I just can’t believe we did it,” she added.

Successful

The paracyclists’ campaign was the most successful of the Irish team at the Games. Of the seven medals taken by Irish athletes in Tokyo, four of those were secured by the paracyclists. Dunlevy and McCrystal clocked up two of Ireland’s four gold medals across all sports; they were also responsible for one of Ireland’s two silver medals.

Another member of the team, Gary O’Reilly, also medalled, securing bronze in the H5 time trial.

There were near-misses too. He and Ronan Grimes went close to adding two more medals to the paracyclists’ haul, with O’Reilly’s fourth place in the H5 road race and Grimes’s fourth in the C4 individual pursuit just one place off the podium.

As Dunlevy and McCrystal emphasised on Friday, a lot of credit is due to those who helped them before and during the Paralympics, especially team coach Neill Delahaye. His guidance ensured all of the riders were in their best possible condition. While there was varied success in the road events, all seven clocked up a personal best in the track races. This boosts hopes of a bigger success in Paris in three years’ time.

Before then, Dunlevy and McCrystal have said they hope the velodrome in Abbotstown will finally be constructed. Long-promised, yet to be delivered, that would further boost the chances of future success.

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