Dame Sarah Storey has highlighted the Tour de Yorkshire’s recent role in creating a women’s race the same length as the men’s as a significant step forward.
And she also believes that today’s Yorkshire 2019 Para-Cycling International represents another leap forward.
For this is the first time a para-cycling event will take place alongside the UCI Road World Championships, which officially kick-off tomorrow with the mixed team relay – another pioneering step that sees men and women compete together.
For para-cycling, that level playing field is not there yet, but the wheels are in motion. The world championships in Glasgow in 2023 is a combined event for road, mountain bike, track and para, while the worlds of the following year in Zurich are the first to be named the UCI Road and Para-cycling World Championships.
“Yorkshire is the first chance to have an integrated event,” says Storey, who claimed two more titles at para-cycling’s own world championships in Holland last weekend, when winning the road race and the time-trial.
“Again that is an example of UK Sport and home governing bodies putting para-sports front and centre. This is what can be done when you support para sport and what the public needs to see.
“What we have found since London is that there are very few countries where the people come out and support para-sports to the extent that they do in this country. People see the London Paralympics and the Rio Paralympics and think you don’t compete between times.
“Globally, para-sports didn’t get the profile it did in the UK.
“As a UK athlete, that gives you so much pride in representing a country that supports you.
“And Yorkshire has played an especially important role since the legacy of the Tour de France. The Tour de Yorkshire was the first race to have the women’s stages mirror that men’s.
“It’s been a calculated strategy towards cycling equality.
“It’s ironic that it comes as a legacy of the Tour de France which is one of the most male-centric events there is.”
At age 41, and with a multi-garlanded career as a swimmer first and then a cyclist still ongoing, Storey is a busy woman.
In between winning world titles last weekend and trying to claim victory on Yorkshire’s roads tomorrow, she was down at the British Paralympic Association, courting investment opportunities to help fund the next Olympic cycle.
Do not, though, let that suggest her focus will be anywhere other than winning today’s Para-Cycling International when she wheels out of Tadcaster at 2.12pm.
“It’s a really small group of riders in my classification (from Tadcaster) and it will be very difficult for me as the rainbow jersey because everyone will want to sit on my wheel,” says Storey, of an event that counts towards Tokyo Paralympic qualification.
“It’s a challenging course, Yorkshire courses always are, they’re very technical.
“It’s point-to-point, which is a lot more adventurous and more exciting than just a circuit which para-cyclists get which can sometimes lack imagination. The roads are going to be big and wide, we’re on the A19 for a time before the flat run in to Harrogate.
“It’s fantastic for our sport that we get to kick the whole week off.”
The Para-Cycling International includes 26 races in total, all held on one day, with men’s and women’s contests taking place across all four classifications. Setting off from Beverley, Tadcaster and Wetherby, every race will finish in Harrogate.
As well as Storey in the C5 class, there is Beverley-born Adam Duggleby, who will roll out of his home town in the B class piloting Stephen Bate – the pair bagged silver medals in the time-trial event in Holland and are real contenders to win on home turf.
Australian Carol Cooke, who also claimed two rainbow jerseys in the WT2 time-trial and road race events, gets going in Wetherby.
Ireland’s Katie-George Dunlevy and pilot Eve McCrystal, the 2019 B-class world road race champions and time-trial silver medallists, begin from Beverley.