Inspired by the human spirit!

Cyclists Noel Sens and Jose Mendez descending a mountain.

Noel descending with Jose Mendez of Spain a double amputee. (Photo: UCI Cycling)

Noel Sens has recently returned from his time away at the Para cycling world road championships in Canada representing Australia in the individual time trial and road race. This was a major step for Noel who had been trying for selection at this level since 2003 (previous track and road were combined competitions) but this time selections were road only.

Again another strong testimony of commitment and perseverance paying off which is never missing in the stories of cycling.  What sets cycling apart as a sport; “you can play soccer and play tennis you can play rugby but you can’t play cycling”.

The team left Australia on July 31st and after a short flight to Sydney, flew direct to Canada a 16 hour flight landing in Vancouver. Followed with a 6 hour flight across Canada to Montreal with a 4 hour bus trip to reach Bromont where the team was scheduled for a pre champions training camp for 2.5 weeks. Bromont is a ski village in winter, but with no snow it made an ideal training camp facility as the weather was 26 degrees and humid.

It has hardly any English speaking residents as the larger part of the population are French speaking, which made it interesting to order food at a restaurant as all the menus were in French only. To give some perspective of how different values can change across the world petrol was one dollar per gallon , which is 22 cents per litre, with the majority of cars being huge v8 pickups and camper vans “petrol guzzlers” in Noel’s words and being a petrol head himself being in his element.

The world titles were held in a place called Baie -Comeau another 10 hours by bus and ferries to the top of Canada near the end of the continent. The weather was a stark contrast somewhat colder, being around 15 to 20 degrees. The town’s main employment is an industrial aluminium smelter from a population of around 24000.

Before competition began Noel faced a setback that had not been accounted for.  All his training had been with a crank set of one shortened crank which adds very little value than of supporting his left foot and leg somewhere for balance while his right leg operating with the normal length crank with the chain rings generating power. To stay in his chosen class required a zero length advantage which still allow for platform but could not be any resemblance of a crank.  This could have been achieved but with such short notice, requiring Noel ride in another class of athlete disability range. They did attempt to seek the decision to be overturned on previous precedent but to no avail.

Sport and life alike can throw us challenges at anytime and with the support of Coach Peter Day, Noel had to make some big mental changes to his preparation and get back on track.  The comforting thing was competition was being around like minded and ability athletes, making it a reasonably level playing field, in some respects, all having to make adaption’s to be able to ride and compete due to their disability.

Although the records don’t reflect the overall performance it was a delight to hear Noel’s excitement and looking forward to the future as he has been given encouragement and ongoing support to keep competing something that gives Noel purpose and drive “affirmation!” While in Australia Para Athletes are given limited support to get to the world level competition but while competing in the local domestic events they pay their own way.  In comparison countries like England and Germany have their athletes on a retainer to support their living costs and competition regimes.

It was heart warming and inspiring to hear about athletes Noel came across such as Alex Zanardi an ex formula one race car driver having an Indi race crash losing both his legs and has become a hand cyclist finishing last but making a commitment that he will be back to win. Ex Tour de France rider Xavier Ochoa who finished 4th in the 2004 beating Lance Armstrong up Alpe-d’huez was hit by a car training with his brother who was killed leaving Xavier in coma for 6 months now with an acquired brain injury racing in the same category as Noel.

In closing Noel knows without the valuable support of the Mc Gregor family, Peter Harcourt Disability services, Banana Flooring Geelong and Dave Sanders it would not happen.

Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon God willing.

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