Crouched low on their tandem, wind flowing over and around them and turning a high cadence with smooth power, Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal ate up the seconds between them and their rivals on Tuesday. Visibly stronger, visibly more aerodynamic, they caught British duo Lora Fachie and Corrine Hall for one minute in the Paralympic time trial, posting a perfect response to previous defeats.
In June, Fachie and Hall beat the pair by 30.72 seconds in the paracycling world championship time trial. On Saturday the Britons bettered them by two seconds in the far shorter 3,000-metre individual pursuit. Third time around, Dunlevy and McCrystal pushed back strongly, overtaking those rivals to dominate the Paralympic B time trial.
The victory repeated their gold medal form in the same event at the Rio Paralympics. They will now head to Friday’s road race full of confidence.
“It means the world to me, working for five years towards this,” Dunlevy said. “We wanted to come here and retain the title but really wanted to get the best out of ourselves, have a good ride and hope that would give us a medal and then a gold medal. We heard on first lap that we were up. It was the ride of our lives to get that – we were just moving as one. I had a feeling warming up that I was going to fight for the win and we did it.”
The success showed Dunlevy was correct in her predictions after the paracycling road world championships. Speaking to The Irish Times in June following that time trial silver medal, plus a second silver (to a different British duo) in the road race, she was confident about Tokyo.
“We are in a good place physically,” she said then. “We know we have got work to do, but also that there is more to come from us. We will be working hard on the technical aspects of the time trial between now and Tokyo, as well as on everything else. We believe we can win in Tokyo – that is the aim.”
Tandem pilot McCrystal referenced the technical aspect on Tuesday, of both that June competition and also this Paralympic Games. She, as the tandem pilot, was the one who needed to be inch-perfect on a tight, twisting, turning course taking in the Fuji Speedway motor-racing track. Getting things right meant a faster, safer line through the many bends. Getting things wrong would mean a slower time, or a dangerous crash.
“When we got silver at the world championships, I lost that for us on technical ability,” she said. “So today I was a little bit worried with the technical aspects of this course... I prefer a pan-flat power course. Today was a different over-and-under course. I went around with Neill [Delahaye, team coach] the last two days and I knew what to do. I just needed to execute that.”
That attention to detail showed on Tuesday. “It flowed really, really well. I can’t believe it,” she continued. “I was nervous of it. I wasn’t worried about our power or our ability to win, it was just my worry was about those bloody corners because with tandem, if you slow the bike down too much it is very, very hard to get rhythm going again. You have to keep the bike going, and for a course that wasn’t a flowy course, I felt like it flowed. It felt like I was on my solo bike – we moved as one unit.”
Dunlevy echoed this, speaking about the complete trust she needs to have. “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.”
The same unity and skill will be of importance in Friday’s road race, their final event. Five years ago they were runners-up in the Rio road race; this time around, gold is the target. They want to do it for themselves but there is a much bigger motivation too.
“For kids or adults at home with a visual impairment, our success today shows that you can do anything you want to do. There is nothing you can’t do,” Dunlevy said. “This might inspire them. And I know it gives pride to the people at home and is an uplift for them after two years of the pandemic.”
Gary O’Reilly will similarly be looking to inspire in the H5 road race on Wednesday morning, having taken a fine bronze in Tuesday’s H5 time trial.
“I’m completely shocked, to be honest... I didn’t expect to get the medal,” he said. “I think I was 20 seconds down on podium on first lap, but I had Neill 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 them. 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.