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Interview with Colin Lynch - Paralympian

We caught up with Para-cyclist Colin Lynch following his silver medal ride in the MC2 Individual Pursuit at the 2016 Para-cycling Track World Championships in Italy in March. 

Colin is one of Ireland's top riders, having won the Para-cycling World Title in 2011 in Time Trials, and picking up medals in world cups and championships since then. While the Ireland Team for the Paralympic Games in Rio will be announced in June, Colin is in a good position to claim one of the four qualified male bikes.

Colin Lynch
Category: MC2
Date of Birth: 16/12/1970
Home Town: Macclesfield, UK
Home Club: Team Elite, UK

Tell us a bit about how you came to represent Ireland  

My father is from Ireland (Drogheda) and my mother from England. When I was 4 years old, I moved to Canada with my mother and grew up there, but moved back to England in 2005 under my Irish passport. Despite growing up in Canada, I have always maintained my Irish background, so it was a natural fit for me to represent Ireland.

How did you get involved with Paracycling?

 In 2007 I found myself overweight and unhappy. I decided to buy a bike to get myself fit again. Over the next several months the weight dropped off steadily and I began to get the racing bug. I had raced a little when I was a teenager (before losing my leg) but had only cycled for recreation since then. In 2008 I watched Paracycling in the Paralympic Games for the first time - and the lightbulb went off: I knew straight away that it was something I wanted to be involved with. I started racing locally in the UK and a few years later got in touch with the Irish team and asked to try out. A short time later I was training with them!

You compete in the MC2 category – can you explain a bit about the para-cycling categories?

For solo bikes, there are 5 different classes C1 to C5 with C5 being the least disabled. The C2 class features riders who are above-knee amputees, riders with more severe Cerebal Palsey, or riders with a combination of issues. I am a below-knee amputee on one side, but also lost the use of the muscles below the knee on the opposite side due to a spinal cord injury. I essentially have the equivalent of one good leg - which is why I race in this category.
Classification involves a series of physical examinations and tests by a panel of classifiers - which will include at least one doctor and one physiotherapist well-versed in the demands of cycling. In addition to the examination, they may also observe you on the bike to assess things like coordination, balance, handling, etc. Before anyone can be permanently classified, they have to been looked at at least twice by the panel.

You are a multiple World medallist across road and track and won the World Championships in the TT in 2011. If you had to choose one event, which is your favourite? Why?

 I have always maintained a love for the time trial. Track cycling is very hard - and very precise. Your race may be over in under 4 minutes, but there is zero room for error. You can lose a race in the first 10 seconds if you get it wrong. On the road the races are longer, but you have more time to make adjustments. It requires greater concentration and discipline I think, but it’s also more enjoyable being outside and reading to the elements and the road rather than just following a black line around the track.

What does a day in the life of an elite athlete look like in Para-cycling?

 At the core of it, we (Para-cyclists) are just the same as any other cyclist. And as an Elite rider, the demands are very similar to that of a Pro rider.

 My disability means I can't always ride as fast or as long as an able-bodied rider, but beyond that my approach is the same. When in full-time training, the days are long and hard. When I’m away on a training camp, I can be on the bike for 5-6 hours a day. In addition to this, there is often gym work to do. And in the evenings we may have a variety of meetings with coaching staff, nutritionists, the sports psychologist, physiologist, or massage. At home, the regime is similar, but without the extra meetings!

I’ve always said that unless you are supremely gifted, you need to focus on your riding full-time in order to win medals at the World level. Trying to balance work, family and training means (for me certainly) that you are spreading yourself too thin.

You're no stranger to taking on new challenges like the hour record – tell us a bit about this attempt, and what the prep for the record involves?

 At the end of 2015 I decided to make an attempt on the Para-cycling Hour Record for my category. It’s actually something that had been on my mind since I started in para-cycling but I finally had the time, the skill and the desire to go for the record.

I spent several months preparing for the record - doing specific prep on the track in Majorca. Most training sessions would involve doing 20 minute blocks on the track, slightly above my target pace. Usually with 10 minutes of recovery in between efforts. I even did the full hour (non-stop) a couple of times to make sure I knew exactly how much it was going to hurt!

Of course - on the day things didn’t quite go according to plan. Despite being well ahead of the distance needed to break the record, my front tyre exploded at the 42-minute mark and I crashed heavily. Even though I remounted after a wheel change, I had lost too much time and had landed too hard on my arm - so was unable to support my weight.

Always one to hate leaving things unfinished - I will be making another attempt after the Paralympic Games in October 2016. With fresh tyres this time!

What’s your favourite training session?

 Ironically, I love hills and climbing. I say ironically ecause when I started in Paracycling, I used to hate hills. Over time I have come to love them! Any time I can get stuck into a long climb of an hour or more I love the constant feeling of bearable suffering. And the sense of achievement when you reach the top of a tough climb is hard to beat.

Where’s your favourite place to go for a bike ride?

I have a real love of cycling in Italy. Over the years I have raced there multiple times and have always gotten great results. But when not racing, I love taking to the hills or countryside and exploring. The country has such a rich history when it comes to cycling and some stunning scenery to boot. There is always a bit of a magical feeling whenever I ride there.

What’s your favourite way to chill out in between training sessions?

Feet up, on the sofa, watching TV.

Have you any ritual you use to prepare for races? 

 I will ask one of my teammates to come over and punch me in the face. The rush of adrenaline I get from this is always enough to get me pumped up. And when my competitors see them do it - they think I’m crazy - and it scares them.

Now, what I wrote in that last paragraph is pure fiction. But I had you going for a second, didn’t I? The answer is no. Nothing special. I just go through a set warm up routine based on the event - nothing special!

Colin and the Para-cycling team will compete in the Road World Cups over the coming months, before setting their sights on the Paralympic Games in Rio in September. If you want an opportunity to ride with the Para-cycling Team you can catch up with them at the An Post Tour de Burren in June, as they are ambassadors for the event, as An Post are one of the sponsors for the Irish Paracycling Team.
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