Para-Cycling Road World Cup puts athletes and Huntsville on world stage

HUNTSVILLE – A huge opportunity for athletes and the city of Huntsville to put themselves on the map is coming up this Memorial Day weekend at the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Para-Cycling Road World Cup.

The race is an international event that prepares athletes for the Paralympics in 2024. Two World Cups have already taken place this year in Belgium and Italy. Huntsville is the honored host of the third World Cup in 2023, which will be the city’s third para-cycling race since 2021.

The collaboration of the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce, the Huntsville-Madison County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and the Huntsville Sports Commission is making the race a reality while welcoming over 300 athletes from 40 countries with signature southern hospitality and style.

Many athletes were already raving about the course that runs through the scenic Cummings Research Park and the unique challenges it presents to racers.

“The course in Huntsville is amazing,” Dennis Connors, an American tricyclist, raved. “We just kept telling people, ‘It’s such a good course! It’s such a good course!’ It’s fast. The turns are really wide. There are some sharp turns, but it just makes for really good racing, and then also, from a fan standpoint, there’s tons of places to watch.”

Athletes were also well aware of the city’s major landmark: the Saturn V Rocket and looked forward to seeing it in person and experiencing all that Huntsville and North Alabama have to offer.

“I’m really excited to visit the Deep South and see an actual, different perspective of America [that] I’ve heard about a lot in film and television, obviously, but never actually seen with own eyes. Really excited to get some of that Southern hospitality that I hear so much about,” cyclist for Great Britain, Sam Ruddock, shared.

While the race is a huge honor and opportunity for the city of Huntsville, it is also both those things for the racers, themselves. The Para-Cycling Road World Cup is meant specifically for those athletes with unique challenges and disabilities. For many, the sport helped them gain confidence and provided an outlet after life changing events and diagnoses.

Tim de Vries, a handcyclist from the Netherlands, began in para-athletics after a trampoline accident broke his leg, forcing an amputation. De Vries started in para-rowing which led him to discover and fall in love with para-cycling through the Paralympics network. Now, he has been a successful para-cyclist since 2011, becoming a World Champion and medaling in the 2020 Paralympic Games.

Connors, a former Marine who served in Iraq, where he experienced six traumatic brain injuries, entered para-cycling through a veterans’ program. A debilitating stroke, however, that left him with significant balance and motion issues prompted Connors to go all in on para-cycling.

“That’s kind of how I got into para-cycling was through the veterans’ program, and it helped me recover and still push my limits,” Connors recalled.

Ruddock is something of a newcomer to para-cycling after his coach for American football noticed his cerebral palsy and recommended para-sports as a space where he could find success and be highly competitive. Ruddock started out in para-sports in track and field and then branched out to track cycling, but has just recently entered the world of road cycling.

Athletes like Ruddock, Connors, and de Vries can be spotted around town training on Huntsville roadways in the days leading up to the race. The hosting organizations invite the public to support these athletes, learn about this sport, and welcome the athletes to the United States and especially Huntsville this weekend. The race is free to the public, and an adaptive cycling clinic that is also free and open to the public will be taking place on Sunday, May 21 from 2-4 pm at the University of Alabama in Huntsville to educate the public on the sport and the different cycles used by the athletes.

For race details, click here.

A fireworks show will be held to wrap up the special event on Monday, May 29. The final race will be a team vs. team hand-cycle relay near Columbia High School and HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology at 7 p.m. The entire community is invited to stay for the fireworks which are expected to begin around 7:45 p.m.

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