They struck around the velodrome in dizzying circles, feet pumping pedals in astonishing synchronisation. It was the culmination of the teamwork and dedication Aileen McGlynn and Helen Scott gave on the second day of the Paralympics in their Individual 1km time trial.
The velodrome hosted a multitude of achievements for GB cyclists, who emerged top of the track cycling tables with a host of world records smashed. With five gold medals, and three times as many in total, it seems the track cyclists are on the crest of a wave of success following the path of their Olympic counterparts with whom they train. Sarah Storey was particularly propelled by this momentum, winning two gold medals in both her track events. “I’m just over the moon and it’s amazing,” she said. No doubt, Britain’s track cyclists were pretty successful in London.
It was not without drama, however, as Great Britain’s athletes did not get to finish their races: Jody Cundy was given a DNF (did not finish) on tables in the one kilometre time trial, whilst Antony Kappes and pilot Craig Maclean were disqualified after two false starts in the one kilometre time trial for their classification. Overall though “it’s been an amazing couple of days and a great experience,” according to tandem cyclist Neil Fachie. “When we crossed the line in the velodrome it was just phenomenal, I’m really not going to forget the experience,” he said in reference to his gold medal and world record he set in the men’s one kilometre time trial.
Fachie did not achieve gold alone, however. Being in the B category for visually impaired athletes, he competed on a tandem with an able-bodied athlete piloting. In the GB squad there are four such pairs, two men and two women: Neil Fachie and Barney Storey (Sarah’s husband), Antony Kappes and Craig Maclean, Aileen McGlynn and Helen Scott, and finally Lora Turnham and Fiona Duncan.
Who are these pilots? They are athletes who initially trained with the able-bodied programme and were then given the chance to pilot. “I just jumped on and loved it from there,” said Helen Scott, the 22-year-old pilot for Aileen McGlynn.
Travel back two decades and these tandem cyclists would have been the only ones to compete in the Paralympics. Para-cycling was initially developed by visually impaired athletes and in 1988, Seoul saw the first tandem cyclists to be incorporated in the Games.
It involves a slightly different training approach to riding on a solo bike. "It is all about the balance between too much time on the tandem and not enough - it is key. The athletes like to train on their solo bikes too. Being on a tandem is very stressful physically and there is a lot of pressure," said GB endurance coach Tom Stanton.
In the Stratford velodrome the tandem riders won two golds, two silvers and one bronze collectively. This was predominantly due to a strong relationship between pilot and stoker. “I think it is important to know what each other are like and how you ride the bike; you don’t want to be fighting each other and it’s really important to know when people are going to do things and what they’re going to do,” said Neil Fachie who is piloted by Barney Storey. The pairings are decided by selectors from British Cycling on the basis of trial and error. "We've been switching around for a couple of years to find out which pairings are the best. We broke the world record so I guess the selectors did a good job!" said Neil Fachie.