Alex Zanardi, the Italian former F1 racing driver who turned to handcycling after losing both legs in a crash 11 years ago, has won his second gold medal of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Great Britain handcyclists Rachel Morris and Karen Darke failed in an attempt to share bronze in the women’s H1-3 road race, - the pair crossed the line hand in hand, but it’s Morris who gets the medal.
Zanardi claimed gold in the H4 road race, held over a distance of 64km at the Brands Hatch motor racing circuit in Kent, beating South Africa's Ernst van Dyk in a sprint finish, with Belgium's Wim Decleir taking bronze.
The 45-year-old Italian will go for a third gold medal in the H1-4 relay later today.
“To win this race in this way, in such a dramatic way and sprinting makes me really proud,” reflected Zanardi afterwards.
“It shows that I am a complete cyclist, even if I have no legs. I just tried to save as much as I could during the race. I know I'm a good sprinter and just had to be confident in myself. And it worked.
“The race did not go as I expected,” he went on. “I thought that I could take off soon and that I would only need to stay calm, but at the fourth lap I tested my opponents and understood my tactic would not work, so I changed it completely and only tried to save, save and save.
“I used the uphills as rest, the others were overtaking me, then in the downhills I caught them up and regained my position.
“I managed my energies well. It's been a tough race, I could have very well lost it.”
He didn’t though, and after the finish, in what has become a trademark celebration, he raised his handcycle above his head with one arm as he took the crowd’s applause for the second time in three days.
In the women’s H1-3 road race, Morris and Darke worked together to try and bring back Marianna Davis and Monica Bascio, both of the United States, who had jumped clear with 16km of the 48km race still to ride.
The British pair crossed the line together holding hands, and many would have said they were equally deserving of the bronze medal, but rules are rules – ahead of the Olympic men’s triathlon last month, it had been made clear to the Brownlee brothers, who have shared victories in the past, that there would be no joint medals in individual events – and it was Morris who was adjudged to have taken third place.
“I have not had the best lead into these Games,” said Morris, who was hit by a car while training in July, putting her participation at the Games in doubt.
“This bronze medal means more than a gold, it means everything,” she continued. “The crowd here awesome and it’s been fantastic to get round together.”
Darke added: “I can’t believe we did it, it was brilliant. We wanted it together, we crossed the line with our hands together.
'I'm delighted for Rachel. She so deserves it. 'I had a medal the other day so we both have something to celebrate.'
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.