With Trials Closing In, Six U.S. Road Cyclists Are Going For World Titles First
by Santosh Venkataraman
Cody Jung competes in the road race in Huntsville, Alabama, in April. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
More than 300 cyclists, including six from the U.S., are set to compete this week in the UCIPara-cycling Road Racing World Championships in the beautiful coastal city of Cascais, Portugal. The competition runs June 9-13.
Last year’s road world championships were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a packed schedule this spring and summer with some athletes choosing to skip this event after already competing in Europe back in May for an ICU World Cup event in Belgium. The smaller group of athletes heading to the world championships is also because many are focusing on the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials on June 19 in Minneapolis.
The Tokyo Paralympics begin August 24.
“This is the busiest year so far, probably because it is more condensed,” said U.S. rider Cody Jung. “We didn’t have stuff until really towards the spring, and then all these events during the summer.”
Jung, a native of Poway, California who competes in the MC4 classification, made his world championships debut in 2019, finishing fifth in the time trial and ninth in the road race. He plans to compete in the time trial this week, and says he’s improved a lot since 2019.
“I think for me, anything less than a win would be definitely kind of a bummer,” he said. “Obviously, with time trials racing, you really have to do your own race.You can’t really control what other people do, you can only execute your plan to the best of your abilities so that’s what I’m going out to Portugal planning to do.”
One of Jung’s closest friends is Matt Rodriguez, who is set to take part in theMT2 road race and the time trial after finishing seventh and 13th, respectively, in those events in his world championships debut in 2019. Rodriguez is also coming off a pair of bronze finishes in Belgium and could be peaking at the right time.
“He’s on pretty good form right now,” Jung said.“I think he was third in both the time trial and the road race in Belgium, and so I think he’s definitely one to watch. He’s really competitive in this field.”
Also in MT2 is Dennis Connors, who will make his world championships debut after capturing a domestic team trial road title in Huntsville, Alabama, in April. Meanwhile, Owen Daniels (MH4) finished 11th in the time trial and 13th in the road race in Belgium.
Making his fifth appearance at a road world championships is Todd Key, who began cycling competitively at the age of 53. Key, who is classified MC1, has one world championships medal to his credit, a time trial bronze from 2017. You can never count him out on the big stage, though, Jung said.
“He’s a really savvy rider who’s been racing for a long time, so I think this kind of course at worlds will suit him,” Jung said,“but it all depends on the day and who else is there.”
The flat course in Cascaisis being laid out on a Formula One track, Jung noted, which could help cyclists prepare for the Paralympics.
“It’s a different kind of course … which is actually similar to Tokyo,” Jung added.“The Tokyo Olympics road course is on a Formula One track, so it will be good to get out and race on a sort of different kind of course than what I’m used to.”
Representing the women’s team for the U.S. is Jill Walsh, who took silver in the time trial and finished fourth in the road race in Belgium. The former New York state trooper is a two-time Paralympic silver medalist from Rio. Jung said Walsh is looking strong after big rides in Huntsville and Ostend.
With these riders in such diverse classifications, they do not train together with highly individualized programs. However, they do aim to provide support when coming together at an event like this in representing Team USA.
“We kind of follow our own programs, (although) we’ll have team meetings and since we all ride the same courses, we’ll discuss course details, tactics of that course, and then on race days, if you’re not racing and other paras are racing, it’s really fun to watch,” said Jung.