What To Watch At UCI Para-Cycling Track Worlds

By Brianna Tammaro | March 16, 2016, 10 a.m. (ET)
The U.S. Paralympics Cycling Team poses before the start of the 2016 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships being held March 17-20 in Montichiari, Italy.

The top international Para-cyclists will make their last major stop on the road to Rio in Montichiari, Italy at the 2016 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, held March 17-20. Team USA will have more than just medals to ride for as athletes will aim to secure valuable Rio qualification points as well as proving their top world ranking on the track and adding more rainbow jerseys to their collection. With less than six months until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, here’s what to watch for starting Thursday:

Defending World Champions
Two U.S. athletes will fight to keep their world crowns on the track in Montichiari. Joe Berenyi (Oswego, Illinois) won three medals (for his three daughters Sydney, Gwen and Tatum) – including two gold – at the 2015 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, taking the men’s C3 3-kilometer individual pursuit and time trial titles. Jamie Whitmore (Mount Aukum, California) also captured three medals, winning gold in the women’s C3 500-meter time trial and two silver medals in the 3km pursuit and scratch race. Whitmore is aiming to repeat her success from the 2014 world championships when she won two rainbow jerseys for the time trial and pursuit—one for each of her twin boys, Christian and Ryder. 

Riding for Redemption
Berenyi, Jennifer Schuble (Birmingham, Alabama) and Chris Murphy (Alta Loma, California) will lead the charge for the U.S. in the team sprint as they seek to land on the podium after missing out by three-tenths of a second in 2014 and one-tenth of a second in 2015. With the UCI now allowing teams to enter a second squad, the U.S. will combine the talents of Megan Fisher (Missoula, Montana), Shawn Morelli (Leavenworth, Kansas) and Samantha Bosco (Spring Hill, Florida) to challenge for another medal on Sunday.

Justin Widhalm (Colorado Springs, Colorado) is determined to redeem himself after coming up short in Apeldoorn when he sat up on lap three of four in the men’s C4 1km time trial race. Widhalm, who recently won the event at February’s U.S. Paralympics Track Cycling Open in Los Angeles, will also compete in the men’s C4-5 scratch race on Saturday.

Targeting Team USA

The American team will have targets on their backs as they head into world championships as the top-ranked nation on the track and road per the overall UCI standings. Boasting a talented 18-athlete roster that includes two reigning track world champions and five returning medalists, the U.S. will hope to build on their successful 12-medal performance at the 2015 event in Apeldoorn, Netherlands. Coupled with a strong season on the road that featured an 18-medal haul at worlds and a number of impressive world cup showings, Team USA finished the 2015 season at the top of the international rankings to carry momentum into 2016. 

Familiar Venue

Five years later, the track cycling world championships return to the Montichiari Velodrome for the 2016 edition of the event as 32 countries will compete for world titles. The facility, which opened in May 2009, features a 250-meter long track with a maximum inclination of 44 percent. In 2011, the U.S. came away with six medals (one gold, two silver and three bronze), including Allison Jones (Colorado Springs, Colorado) and Schuble who each took home a pair of medals. Jones, the sole U.S. world champion in 2011, and Schuble will both make their return to the 2016 squad. At last year’s worlds, Team USA doubled their count from 2011 to finish third in the medal count with 12—four gold, four silver and four bronze.

Rio Slots at Stake
Track cycling world championships will serve as the final opportunity for teams to earn valuable qualification points towards athlete slots at the 2016 Paralympic Games. Cyclists finishing in the top ten in their respective races will add to their country’s count that can contribute to larger team sizes. Teams will be notified of their final allocation slots in early May with the U.S. naming its team on July 3 following the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials, held June 30-July 2 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

For coverage of the 2016 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, follow the U.S. Paralympics website for daily recaps and Facebook and Twitter for updates. For full results, visit the UCI website.