U.S. Para-cyclists Chase Track World Titles At Paris 2024 Cycling Venue
by Paul D. Bowker
Shawn Morelli trains prior to the 2022 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
A cycling dress rehearsal for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 begins Thursday.
This year’s UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships take place Oct. 20-23 at the National Velodrome in Montigny-le-Bretonneux, just outside of Paris. The facility will be host to the track cycling competition for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games and is also home to the French Cycling Federation.
Clara Brown, one of the 11 members of the U.S. team, said the opportunity to compete on the track is a “huge bonus” just two years out from those Games.
As much as this this year’s event is a preview for 2024, it also marks a return to normalcy as track cycling awards its first world titles since early 2020, just before the pandemic hit North America.
“Everybody is excited to have a track world championships for the first time since 2020,” said Brown, a 2020 Paralympian in both track and road cycling. “There’s that collective excitement we can all kind of draw on each other from.”
The U.S. team brings a mix of veteran leadership from riders such as three-time Paralympic gold medalist Shawn Morelli and reigning road world champions Samantha Bosco and Brown, while five members are making their world championships debuts.
Morelli, a 12-time world champion in the WC4 class, was the only American medalist in track cycling at last year’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo with a silver medal in individual pursuit.
“Shawn has not really raced since the Paralympic Games, where she won our only track medal,” said Ian Lawless, director of U.S. Paralympics Cycling. “So it’ll be great to see Shawn back out there.”
U.S. medal contenders also include Bosco, a two-time Paralympic medalist in WC4 at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016. She was undefeated during the world cup road season this year and won two world titles. She also won a pair of national titles in September, defeating Morelli both times.
This is also a major comeback opportunity for Bosco, as she was unable to compete in last summer’s Paralympics after suffering a head injury while training.
“She’s just been a force really globally,” Lawless said. “She just has really been a great team leader. She goes out there and she wins every time she lines up.”
Brown is a contender in WC3 after winning two track world titles in 2020. Like Bosco, she is attempting to win world titles in two disciplines this year after winning the road race this summer.
“It’s a big deal, obviously, if you can win a rainbow jersey on the road and the track in the same year,” Lawless said.
Chris Murphy, a two-time Paralympian in MC5, is looking to add to his collection of seven world medals.
Other Paralympians on the men’s side are Aaron Keith, a Paralympic silver medalist who has won two past world championships, and Justin Widhalm, an eight-time member of the world team.
Keith, in MC1, scored a silver medal in the road time trial last year in Tokyo and went under world-record time in the track individual pursuit — but alas four other riders went even faster.
Widhalm, a 45-year-old Nebraska native, is seeking a podium finish in MC4 after missing a bronze medal by just one spot in 2020.
“He’s riding really well right now,” Lawless said. “He’s jumping at the bit to get back to the world championships. It’ll be exciting to watch him race.”
Bryan Larsen had been a professional able-bodied road cyclist before a 2019 injury. Now he’s making his world championships debut as a Para rider.
“He was a great athlete who sort of found us and we got him into the program relatively quickly,” Lawless said. “He’s a really great addition to the team just because of his experience as a bike racer.”
Larsen already has his eyes on bigger goals down the line, including the 2024 Paralympics.
“That’s why I think this world championships, especially for me as part of this process, really does mean a lot because it’s kind of a dress rehearsal of sorts,” said Larsen, who will compete in the MC5 classification. “Regardless of what legs I get on the day, knowing what I’m going into, knowing what the track feels like, knowing what the environment around the track is like ... Having all of that catalogued in that memory bank, I think, is important for anyone to be successful.”
In addition to Larsen, others making their track world debuts are John Terrell in the MC4 class, Katie Walker in WC5, and tandem riders Hannah Chadwick and Mary-Kate Wintz.
Chadwick and Wintz have been training together since 2019 and recently moved to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“We’re real excited to see them race,” Lawless said. “Their times just keep improving. They have an opportunity in the 1-kilometer time trial, which is sort of their specialty.”
Walker, a former sprinter who has competed in two world track and field championships, is set to compete in the 500-meter time trial.
Terrell made the world team in track after winning a silver medal in his world cup road debut last spring. He made his road worlds debut in 2022 in Canada.
“John’s another one who had an amazing road season,” Lawless said.
The team’s head coach is Sarah Hammer-Kroening, a four-time Olympic medalist.
“She’s been there, done that and came out on top,” Lawless said. “Sarah’s been a great lead for them and a great head coach.”
Hammer-Kroening will be assisted by Jennie Reed, a three-time Olympian, and Rory O’Reilly, a 1984 Olympian and former world record-holder.
The competition will be streamed live on both the French Federation's YouTube page and the Handisport Studio. Livestream information can be found here. Follow U.S. Paralympics Cycling on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates from competition.