The first day of road cycling at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, held at the Brands Hatch motor racing circuit in Kent yesterday, produced historic moments for two remarkable athletes at opposite ends of their careers in the event – Britain’s Sarah Storey and Italy’s Alex Zinardi.
Storey took her third gold of the Games, and her tenth in total – five in swimming, five in cycling – in the C5 individual road time trial. She now stands just one short of Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson’s record of 11 gold medals for a British Paralympian.
She can match that haul later today in the C4-5 road race.
However the 34-year-old Storey, who competed at four Paralympics as a swimmer between 1992 and 2004 before switching to cycling ahead of Beijing four years ago, now has an astonishing 20 Paralympic medals in total, compared to the former wheelchair racer’s 16 medals.
Storey, who last week won two gold medals in the Velodrome at the Olympic Park, posted a wining time of 22 minutes 40 seconds yesterday, with silver going to Anna Harkowska of Poland and bronze to Kelly Crowley of the USA.
"I'm absolutely delighted," said Storey after her victory. "It's just amazing to get around the circuit so quick. I'm just so chuffed. I went into Beijing as a swimmer on a bike, almost a fish out of water. My body shape's changed a huge amount since then and now I'm firmly a cyclist. To think I've done what I did in swimming, now on a bike, it's not sunk in at all. I'm not sure it ever will.”
Speaking of her fourth and final tilt at gold later today, she added: "The road race is a road race, you can never tell. The girls will all be gunning to beat me after this week. I'll have to keep my wits about me and see what happens. I'm marked everywhere I go. I'll see what I can do and hopefully have the legs for it tomorrow."
Storey’s wasn’t the only medal won at Brands Hatch by ParalympicsGB today. Fellow track gold medallist Mark Colbourne took silver in the C1 time trial, while Karen Darke also won a silver medal in the H 1-2 time trial. David Stone completed Great Britain’s medal haul on the day, taking bronze in the mixed T 1-2 time trial.
Zanardi, the former Formula 1 racing driver who lost both his legs in an Indy CART crash in Germany in 2001 is no stranger to Brands Hatch, finishing second there in a Formula 3000 race in 1991 and in the World Touring Car Championships as recently as 2009, the year in which he finally retired from motorsport.
The 45-year-old form Bologna began racing handcycles in 2007 and two years later said he was targeting a place on the Italian Paralympic team for London. Not only did he achieve that ambition, but in securing a gold medal he has also provided one of the most compelling stories of an event that is hardly lacking in them.
Yesterday, Zanardi’s time of 24 minutes 50 seconds proved impossible to beat for riders taking to the track after him, including silver medallist Norbert Mosandl of Germany, who went 27 seconds slower, and Oscar Sanchez of the United States, a further 18 seconds back in third place.
“I'm Alex Zanardi, I always have to come up with something at the end of a race - I have a bit of a big head,” joked the Italian afterwards.
“My great friend Jimmy Vasser [former IndyCar champion and now a team co-owner] called me last night and said if you win a gold medal I'm going to put you in a car for the Indy 500, so I will have to call him back tonight.
Speaking of his previous participations in events at Brands Hatch, he said: “I only collected a second place, a third-placed finish and to win I had to come back with a hand-cycle. It's an amazing feeling.
“I'm really, really happy for the result and I knew that this moment was going to bring a little bit of sadness as well.
“This is almost the last day of a great adventure and from Monday I will have to find something different, otherwise life will become a little boring,” he reflected.
“It's at the top of the scale with many other great moments I've been lucky enough to live.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.