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Inside The Numbers: A Look At Digits That Define Para-Cycling

By Alex Abrams | June 13, 2021, 10 a.m. (ET)

Oksana Masters poses for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympics shoot on Nov. 21, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.


Inside the Numbers presented by DeVry is a series that gives fans a peek at the numbers behind what it takes to qualify for Team USA and other incredible facts about Team USA sports.


The top American Para-cyclists haven’t had many opportunities to race during what has unexpectedly turned into a Paralympic year. 

They competed for the first time in more than a year at the U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open in Huntsville, Alabama, in April. A month later, they took part in their first international race of 2021 at the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup in Ostend, Belgium.

All of the uncertainty over the past year will only add more intrigue to the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for Cycling, which will be held June 19 in Minneapolis. Stakes will be high when cyclists race along the city’s West River Parkway for a chance to qualify for this summer’s Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.

The athletes selected to the U.S. Paralympic Team will be announced on June 20.

With the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials only a few days away, here’s a closer look at Para-cycling by the numbers.

Para-cycling was developed in the 1980s, and it made its Paralympic debut at the 1984 New York/Stoke Mandeville Games. Athletes who compete in the three road events — the road race, the individual time trial and the handcycling team relay — must deal with conditions that aren’t always ideal for racing. For example, cyclists had to ride through cold wind and rain at the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup in Ostend. Athletes will likely be paying attention to the weather forecast in Minneapolis.

Athletes started competing in track Para-cycling at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics. There are five track events in Para-cycling — the tandem sprint, the team sprint, the 500-meter time trial, the individual pursuit and the scratch race. Shawn Morelli won the first gold medal for Team USA at the 2016 Rio Paralympics when she cruised past Australian Susan Powell to capture the women’s C4 3,000-meter individual pursuit with a time of 3:59.407.

Athletes have eight Para-cycling events to medal in between the road races and track events. Team USA has earned at least nine medals in every Paralympics since 1996, when athletes started competing in both road and track Para-cycling. Americans have won 22 gold medals during that span.

Classifications are set up in Para-cycling to ensure that athletes with limb impairments, spinal cord injuries and other physical impairments race against cyclists with similar abilities. Athletes compete in 12 classes that are recognized by the type of cycle they use — five classes for standard bicycles (C1-5) five classes for handcycling (H1-5) and two classes for tricycles (T1-2).

Para-cycling has become a sport that’s popular with military veterans. Fifteen athletes with connections to the U.S. military are scheduled to race at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials. Morelli is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Afghanistan war. Fellow Paralympic gold medalist Will Groulx served in the U.S. Navy before a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. 

The 2016 U.S. Paralympic cycling team headed into Rio with a loaded roster that included nine Paralympians and five reigning world champions. That depth was apparent at the Rio Games. Team USA earned 18 medals — four golds, nine silvers and five bronzes — to record its most podium finishes ever at a Paralympics. Its previous best was 17 medals at the 2012 London Paralympics.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the 2020 world cup season to get cancelled. As a result, the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup in Ostend served as a tune-up for and perhaps a preview of the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials. Team USA made the most of its opportunities in Belgium, winning 21 medals during the four-day event, including seven golds.

The three courses for the individual time trial at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials run along the West River Parkway from downtown into south Minneapolis, following the Mississippi River. The courses span a combined 37.4 miles. Spectators aren’t allowed at the races because of the ongoing pandemic.

The U.S. Paralympic Team Trials are expected to have a large field. Fifty-six athletes are scheduled to compete in Minneapolis, including Paralympic gold medalists Morelli, Groulx, Jamie Whitmore and Oksana Masters, who earned two gold medals in Para Nordic skiing.

Alex Abrams

Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Related Athletes

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Shawn Morelli

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Will Groulx

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Jamie Whitmore

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Oksana Masters

Nordic Skiing