The 2021 Para-cycling Road World Championships began in spectacular fashion on Wednesday evening with the team relay raced at the legendary motor-racing circuit, Circuito Estoril in Cascais, Portugal.
After an exhilarating race, which saw the teams negotiate nine laps of a 1.98km stretch of the long straight, Italy retained the title the nation won in 2019. (Last year the event was cancelled because of the Covid pandemic.) Spain took silver with Germany in third.
The opening competition of the Championships, that conclude on Sunday 13 June, featured seven teams of three from the H1-H5 classification: Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Poland, Brazil and Switzerland.
Italy’s trio included two of the three riders who won back in Emmen, the Netherlands, two years ago: Paolo Cecchetto and Luca Mazzone. The third team member, Diego Colombari replaced Alessandro Zanardi, the former Formula One driver still recovering from a serious crash suffered in 2020.
The Italian team stated their intentions immediately in Cascais, setting the fastest opening lap in 2:28 mins alongside Spain, Switzerland and Poland. By the fifth lap, the Italians (12:58) had built an 8s lead over Spain (13:06), whose line-up of Israel Ibanez, Sergio Garrote Munoz and Luis Miguel Garcia-Marquina Cascallana won bronze back in 2018.
Poland sat in third a further 15s back in 13:21 mins.
It looked a two-horse race and so it proved, Spain cutting that lead to 7s after lap six before a race-turning seventh lap that saw the Italians shift up a gear and extend their advantage to 17s. Switzerland lay in third with Germany in fifth.
A 2:36 min final lap secured victory for the Italians in 23:29, 17s ahead of Spain. Germany, featuring the same team which took third in 2019 – Annika Zeyen, Bernd Jeffre, Vico Merklein – used every ounce of that experience to storm past the fading Swiss team, winning bronze in 24:07.
So another gold for Cecchetto and Mazzone, whose very different backgrounds – Cecchetto started in wheelchair basketball, Mazzone in swimming – hasn’t stopped them making their respective marks in hand cycling. They continued to do so Wednesday with the help of the powerhouse that is Colombari.
Thursday sees the first full day of racing, starting with the men’s C2 individual time trial at 10am CET, featuring three laps of 8.4km. Events run throughout the day, concluding with the tandem individual time trial at 4.45pm CET.
Para-cycling sport classes
C – Cyclist: conventional bike with some minor adaptations
T – Tricycle: three-wheeled bike
B – Blind: tandem
H – Handbike
Each group is divided into different sport classes depending on the severity of the handicap