NIAGARA FALLS – Shelley Gautier’s fifth straight para-cycling world title was her toughest one yet.
After winning the T1 time trials at the 2014 UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships in Greenville, S.C., by a comfortable two-minute margin, it was a far different story in the road race.
Competing in scorching 40-degree temperatures, the 45-year-old Niagara Falls native led for most of the 25-kilometre race before she started to slow down because of problems with her hydration pack. The pack, consisting of a reservoir on her back and a hose that allows her to take a drink without using her hands, had become plugged and she started to struggle.
“It was basically like I hit a wall and I was having trouble with my legs,” the Toronto resident said. “My coaches put water over me which is nice but I didn’t have any water to drink.”
Roaring up from behind came Australian Bianca Woolford, who is half the age of Gautier, looking to hand the Canadian her first loss since Gautier started representing Canada internationally in 2010.
“I thought “This isn’t right’ so I passed her and I went up a hill, down a hill and up a hill to the end,” she said. “I got by her mentally because I had to get by her and I had to do it.”
It was sheer ecstasy when she crossed the finish line with her unbeaten streak intact.
“I won and that is why I was there,” said the Niagara Falls Sports Wall of Fame member said. “That was my goal and I didn’t let somebody who could be my daughter beat me.”
The obstacles she overcame to win the 2014 title made it the most special one yet for her.
“My coach and I were very happy,” she said, adding she celebrated the victory with sushi and a glass of wine. Her two golds were the only ones won by a Canadian athlete.
The world championships conclude Gautier’s competitive season and she is now entering a one-month rest period.
“I went biking yesterday (Wednesday) for fun but I need the month to relax and put my head on right.”
Her next event will be the Defi Sportif event in May in Montreal, a multi-sport event that will feature more than 4,600 athletes from 15 countries. Her goal for 2015 is to be sixth-time world champion.
“I’m going to go down to Florida and train before we have our training camp,” she said. “I did that last year and it worked out well.”
Her thoughts have already turned to the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I just have to out-train them and by out-training them, that’s how I’m going to win.”
Every year she faces increased competition as more and more athletes from Canada and around the world get involved in the sport.
“It’s good but I have to stay sharp and I have to be good.”
At the 2012 Paralympics in London, she was 11th in the time trials as competitors in the T1 and T2 (lesser disability) raced together.
Jacques Landry, high performance director and head coach at Cycling Canada, told Cycling Canada’s website, he’s optimistic heading to the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.
“Though we fell short of our goals, these past five days of racing have enabled us to look at where we are internationally when everyone brings their A game.
“We have veteran athletes in our program that continues to be competitive and that can deliver world class performances on the day, when the stars align.”