Connors’ silver headlines four Team USA medals as road racing opens in Huntsville
by Kristen Gowdy
Dennis Connors competes in the time trial race on May 26, 2023 at the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup in Huntsville, Alabama, presented by Toyota. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA – World championships silver medalist Dennis Connors (Beaverton, Oregon) led the charge in the first day of road races at the 2023 UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup in Huntsville, Alabama, capping his world cup season with a silver medal and highlighting a four-medal day for the Americans. Completing the medal haul for Team USA was Paralympian Alicia Dana (Putney, Vermont), as well as Cody Wills (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) and Barry Wilcox (West Jordan, Utah), who rounded out their individual world cup competitions with bronzes in their respective road races.
The four medals add to Team USA’s lead in the overall medal standings among nations in Huntsville. U.S. athletes have won 12 medals, three more than any other country in attendance. Team USA’s four gold medals are tied with the Netherlands for the overall lead.
Connors, who kicked the day off in the tricycle road races, has been dominant in the MT2 category this season – today’s silver was his second medal of the weekend and fifth in six world cup races in 2023. Aside from a DNF earlier in the season in which he experienced a mechanical error, the U.S. Marines veteran has not finished lower than silver on the circuit this year.
After winning the MT2 time trial Friday, Connors battled with Tim Celen of Belgium for the top spot in today’s road race. He dropped behind the Belgian in the final meters of the competition, finishing in 1:03:34, just two seconds behind Celen.
“It was a fantastic world cup season, never finishing below second, I can’t complain about that,” Connors said. "Today was a little bit upsetting, I wasn’t feeling great and just didn’t have the power. But just two days ago I did the best time trial of my life. So to wrap it up with two medals was fantastic.”
Motivation for Connors in today’s race came from an unusual source. Huntsville, due to its connection to American space exploration, has been giving medalists stuffed monkeys in spacesuits as podium prizes. Connors, who has two children, joked that he needed to come home with two stuffed animals.
On a more serious note, motivation for Connors also came from the significance of competing on U.S. soil with international competitors for the first time.
“Having a world cup here was such an advantage for us,” he said. “The amount of press we’ve done, it raises more and more awareness and it helps people get to know about the sport. I didn’t know about Para-cycling until someone who was in it told me about it. But if I had seen it somewhere then I could’ve went in and explored it myself.”
Dana, Wills and Wilcox also each earned their second medals of the weekend in the WH3, MH2 and MH1 road races, respectively.
In 60.5 kilometers of racing, the podium in Dana’s event was decided by milliseconds. The Paralympian was two seconds off the gold medal pace set by German Annika Zeyen, and the next four finishers – including Dana and American teammate Jenna Rollman (Rancho Cucamonga, California) – crossed the finish line within less than a second of each other. Rollman, the WH3 time trial silver medalist in Huntsville, finished her race with a strong fifth-place result despite a crash.
Dana, meanwhile, won the WH3 time trial on Friday and closes out her 2023 world cup season with three individual medals. A Paralympic bronze medalist in the handcycle relay in Tokyo, Dana will enter tomorrow’s relay as part of one of two Team USA teams. She will compete alongside Travis Gaertner (Burien, Washington) and Brandon Lyons (St. Augustine, Florida).
Wills concluded his individual competition with his second medal in Huntsville and his second career world cup podium. In another sprint finish, Wills’ bronze medal in the MH2 race came just two seconds behind New Zealander Rory Mead, who took second. Wills’ time of 1:30:48 propelled him to his best-ever finish in an international road race.
Having only competed in his first handcycle race in 2018, Wills is wrapping up his first world cup season as a member of Team USA on a high note. He will also have the opportunity to compete in his first relay world cup team tomorrow as he joins Freddie De Los Santos (Hopewell Junction, New York) and Ryan Pinney (Phoenix, Arizona) in the handcycle relay.
“This is what I was expecting myself to do this season, and getting my first medals in the USA feels even better,” Wills said. “This season my goals were to be within the top five in each race. Italy wasn’t the best for me, but by our Belgium world cup, I started to be myself a little bit more and get the results that I expected. Here, it’s been even better.”
Wilcox impressed in Huntsville, earning his second bronze of the weekend in the MH1 race. Like Wills, Wilcox has broken onto the international scene in the closing stages of the 2023 season, racking up three bronze medals – the first world cup medals of his career – in the past four races.
In today’s MH1 road race, Wilcox stuck with the top three athletes, all of whom were within 20 seconds of each other, and pulled away from the rest of the field. The fourth-place finisher was more than four minutes behind Wilcox’s time of 1:23:19.
Other top finishers for Team USA in today’s road races included Paralympic bronze medalist De Los Santos, who placed fourth in a tightly contested MH5 race that was decided by inches. Paralympic medalist Jill Walsh (Syracuse, New York) earned her second fifth-place result of the weekend in the WT2 competition, while Rollman was fifth in the WH3. In all, 18 Americans finished in the top-10 riders in their respective competitions.
Cyclists will return to competition Monday morning for the final day of the event, which will feature road racing and handcycle relay competition beginning at 9 a.m. CDT. Monday’s races will be streamed live on the U.S. Paralympics Cycling Facebook page and website. Follow U.S. Paralympics Cycling on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and results from Huntsville.
For full results from the 2023 UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup – Huntsville, presented by Toyota, please click here.
For media requests and photo inquiries, please contact Kristen Gowdy at Kristen.Gowdy@usopc.org.
Dennis Connors – MT2
Alicia Dana – WH3
Cody Wills – MH2
Barry Wilcox – MH1
Freddie De Los Santos – 4th, MH5
Jill Walsh – 5th, WT2
Jenna Rollman – 5th, WH3
Ellie Kennedy – 6th, WT2
Stephen Zuravel – 6th, MH2
Amanda Kloepfer – 7th, WT2
Gabrielle Platt – 7th, WH3
Brandon Lyons – 9th, MH3
David Berling – 9th, MH5
Oz Sanchez – 10th, MH5
Matt Tingley – 10th, MH4
Michael Davis – 10th, MT2
Danielle Watson – 10th, WG3
Ryen Reed – 10th, WH4
Zachary Stinson – 11th, MH4
Matthew Rodriguez – 11th, MT2
Jose Ivan Perez – 12th, MH5
Josue Barron – 13th, MH5
Ryan Boyle – 13th, MT2
Dianne Leigh Sumner – 13th, WH4
Dustin Baker – 17th, MH4
Ryan Pinney – 18th, MH3
Roderick Sewell – 18th, MH5
Abdul Redzuan Razak – 18th, MH4
Owen Daniels – 20th, MH3
Steve Chapman – 24th, MH3
Jeremy Van Tress – 27th, MH3
Robert Zimny – DNF, MH1
Travis Gaertner – DNF, MH4
John Masson – DNF, MH4
James Moreno – DNF, MH5