Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal had a dazzling end to their Paralympics campaign on Friday, winning the tandem road race and taking their third medal in one week. The duo unleashed a searing attack inside the final two kilometres to finish seven seconds clear of their British rivals Sophie Unwin and Jenny Holl plus the Swedes Louise Jannering and Anna Svaerdstroem.
The three tandems had been together in the final laps, with the British duo declining to add to the pacemaking as their teammates Lora Fachie and Corrine Hall were chasing behind after experiencing mechanical difficulties earlier in the race. Fachie and Hall closed to within 13 seconds starting the final lap and looked like they might rejoin, but the leaders pulled further ahead again.
Unwin and Holl were saving their legs but, despite their comparative freshness, they had no response when Dunlevy and McCrystal put in a huge attack on an uphill close to the finish. The Irishwomen finished well clear, adding a second gold to the gold medal they took in the tandem time trial on Tuesday plus the silver medal from last Saturday’s individual pursuit.
This improves on their Rio 2016 campaign, where they won the time trial and were second in the road race.
Dunlevy was elated with the result. “The road race is my favourite, and I’ve always wanted to win that at the Paralympics,” she said. “So to actually get that… In London I was fifth in the road race, and then I was silver in Rio. So to actually win it now in Tokyo is a dream come true.”
Friday’s victory has an additional significance as Unwin and Holl beat Dunlevy and McCrystal to win the world paracycling championships in June. The Irish duo also had to be content with silver in the time trial, where they were beaten by Fachie and Hall.
Dunlevy insisted afterwards that they could go on to win those events at the Paralympics and, true to her word, the Irish duo have done exactly that.
“It was a really challenging race,” she said. “The Swedish were really technically very good. On the downhills we were losing ground to them. If they were ahead of us then we had to make a lot of efforts to get back to them. There was a lot of on-off efforts, which was really draining as the laps went on.
“There was a chance there, we had to take it, and that was to attack on that last climb coming in. We did and we got a gap - I can’t believe it held it off to the line. I was fading quickly.”
Tandem pilot McCrystal was similarly delighted with the result. She had said after Tuesday’s time trial that getting the technical aspects right - namely, the cornering on the descents - played a big role in their victory. Those same descents were important in the road race, in terms of needing to stay upright in wet, slippery conditions, and also in limiting the gains of the Swedish riders.
“As a pilot, I found that course so stressful in the rain. As Katie said, we were just losing ground on the descent. On the climb, I found it tough due to the on-off during the race.
“I just said to Katie with about two km to go, ‘we are going to have to kick on the last little drag up.’ The British bike are the current world champions. I didn’t want to take them to the line, so we had to chance it. We chanced it, we got the gap, and we just went for it. I cannot believe we did that.”
Earlier, Richael Timothy finished 11th in the C1-3 road race and said that she was already setting her sights on Paris in three years’ time.
“I didn’t really expect to be here at all. To be here [IN TOKYO]was the goal and to give my all in each event. I can call myself a Paralympian now. Three years ago I was told to find something for myself to do, [THAT]sport wasn’t an option.
“But I kept pushing it that I wanted sport in my life. That was how I found the paracycling and it gave me a purpose to get out and do something. Now it is my livelihood.
“Paris was my goal at the start, not really Tokyo. I’ll take a few weeks off and then I’ll go back at it - I want to get better.”
The race was won by Keiko Sugiura of Japan.
Meanwhile Ronan Grimes also finished 11th in his event, the men’s C4-5 road race. He crashed during the contest and chased hard but was unable to rejoin the field.
“It was an honour to be here,” he said. I think every race I performed as well as I could. On the track I was unlucky with the fourth place but it was a performance to my best. Here in Fuji I am happy with how I performed. I am happy with my games, I couldn’t have done better.”
Ireland had competitors in the men’s B (tandem) road race. However Martin Gordon and Eamonn Byrne were non-finishers in the wet, dangerous conditions.