Despite not knowing a word of Italian, I embarked on a solo trip encumbered as usual by my hand bike, a wheel bag, a suitcase, a rucksack and a wheelchair, this time to Castiglione della Pescaia in Italy for the first World Cup on the para-cycling calendar. I booked a holiday apartment in a camp site thinking I could ride to the race venue and Facebook-ed a plea for help in how to get from Rome to Castiglione.
My journey proper started with a coach transfer from the Airport to the main Railway Station in Rome, where fortunately various lovely random people offered their help to get my ticket and shift my luggage, I even acquired a rather handy Italian phrasebook from an American couple. Unfortunately, I was unaware that assistance needed to be booked 12 hours in advance and this caused much gesticulating and harsh sounding phone calls at the Sale Blu office before help could be arranged. After a couple of hours waiting, I was loaded onto the slow train to Grossetto via a kind of golf cart lift, as the trains are two stories high. I eventually arrived late at night to my accommodation via a further 25km taxi ride.
Whilst training on the road the next day, Andrey Ri, a Russian hand cyclist who had replied to my plea for help, stopped and spoke to me. We arranged to meet for training and he also took me to Registration and the official Team Hotel where the British cycling guys were, so that I could give them my uniform for approval and my race licence. I was also blessed with meeting a lovely Austrian couple with their toddler who drove me and my bike into the race venue each day.
On race day, I parked my kit next to the official GB tent and went off to warm-up, only to find the road closed. Mildly panicked, I was kindly offered a British Cycling turbo to use, then it was lining up and the bike check and straight onto the start ramp. Whilst the TT was on a flat course, the road surface was not ideal and the turns were tight and technical at the start, turnaround and finish. I’d decided to pace myself over the 15km, but was disappointed with both my average speed and Watts, although I came 5th.
The RR the next day was around the Town and rumours had spread about crashes and how dangerous it was, being both fast and technical. My race started badly, with a crowded, chaotic start in a narrow side street. I knew as soon as I started it would be a solo effort with nobody to draft. I had to set my GPS during the race and then my water bottle split and dragged along the ground. I stopped twice for help from Marshals and eventually pulled the drinking tube free and ditched it. I had a gel thinking at least that would give me some much needed fluid over the 57km race. I then fought hard to regain my position and finished 5th.
As it turned out, I was lucky, as Karen Darke (H3) crashed out of her race, breaking her nose. One of my competitors, Silke Pan crashed into a wall, with the Korean H4 girl snapping her hand crank clean off her Carbon.ch bike! She still finished the race in third place!