Sports

World’s first women’s handcycling team makes its debut at Twilight Criterium

For the first time in her handcycling career, Alicia Dana has teammates.

“I love it,” Dana said. “It’s great having other female handcyclists to just spend time with let alone ride with. I’ve been racing for seven or eight years now, and I’ve been one of just two or three at the most other females doing it.”

The Challenged Athletes Foundation women’s handcycling team is the first of its kind in the world, and Saturday the women made their ASWD Twilight Criterium debut in Downtown Boise. A handcycle is essentially a modified tricycle that is powered by a person’s arms instead of his or her legs.

In only her second race with CAF, Dana won the women’s handcycling event in 97-degree heat, and William Groulx won the men’s race.

“I’ve been working at this for quite some time, and it’s wonderful to be with these women, most of whom are just starting out,” Dana said. “I feel like I can offer things to them that I didn’t really have when I started out.”

Dana, who became paralyzed from the waist down after falling from a tree at the age of 17, is a two-time Paralympian from Putney, Vermont. She won a silver medal in the women’s road time trial at the Rio Games in 2016 and was fifth in the same event in London in 2012.

She began handcycling in her late 20s and made her first U.S. Paralympics Cycling National Team in 2001. She took time off to raise her daughter and returned to the sport in 2011. Dana and her teammates are currently training with the aim of making the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

“Our overall goal with the Challenged Athletes Foundation is to make this race a premier race for handcycling not only in the United States, but also world wide,” said CAF coach Carlos Moleda, who is a two-time national handcycling champion and four-time Hawaii Ironman champ.

“... CAF is the first and only female team for now, but we’re trying to have more female athletes motivated to come and start. We also want other organizations to maybe take the next step in building a team so we can expand this and maybe have five, 10 teams out there racing. It would be a great thing to watch.”

The Challenged Athletes Foundation, which provides opportunities and support to people with physical challenges, covered travel expenses for Dana and her teammates, giving them the chance to compete in a race they might otherwise have been unable to attend.

“It’s very expensive, and CAF has been instrumental in helping not just me, but many, many others acquire the equipment that they need to become active in their lives, which is an incredibly healing and restorative thing for many of us who have experienced trauma of some sort or another,” Dana said.

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Jennifer Valente, center, celebrates her first place on the podium with Harriet Owen, left, second, and Abigail Youngwerth, right. The 2019 Boise Twilight Criterium on Saturday, July 13, in Downtown Boise. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

Jennifer Valente of San Diego, California, won the 60-minute women’s pro cycling race for the third year in a row. Valente, who rides for Boise-based Sho-Air Twenty20, was an Olympic silver medalist in team pursuit at the 2016 Rio Games.

“Having a whole team rally behind you, and the fact that I’d won the last two years, they were really excited to try and set up a similar situation for me to go for a sprint,” Valente said. “This course is four corners and flat and it’s really fast and it worked out.”

With six laps to go, a crash took out three cyclists, including 2018 runner-up Lily Williams. Valente made her move to the front on the final lap and credits teammate Chloe Dygert-Owen with leading the attack. Harriet Owen of Hagens Berman-Supermint finished second, and Boisean Abigail Youngwerth, riding for Specialized Wolfpack p/b Jakroo, was third.

“I think if we’re back next year it’s going to be even harder,” Valente said. “It’s hard to win races more than one time, and we’ve been fortunate enough to make it happen at this one with our team.”

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First place finisher Justin Williams greets Nicholas Zukowsky, who finished second in the men’s pro race in the 2019 Boise Twilight Criterium on Saturday, July 13, in Downtown Boise. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

As he took his victory lap, Justin Williams was sure to give every fan standing along the railings a high five. He beamed in post-race interviews and hardly appeared short of breath despite 90-minutes of grueling cycling in the summer heat.

Williams won the men’s pro race at the 33rd edition of the Downtown Boise cycling race in front of the steps of the Idaho State Capitol. It was Williams’ second victory in the City of Trees, as he also won in 2017.

“We come out and we have fun with what we’re doing, but when we get in the race it’s business, and we made it happen tonight, which is always a good feeling,” Williams said. “It takes a really strong team. It takes a lot of patience and it takes a lot of confidence and a little bit of carelessness.”

Williams, who is from Pomona, California, rides for Legion of Los Angeles and is the 2018 USA Amateur Road & Criterium champion.

With 16 laps left, all the riders were stopped at the start-finish line to allow a wrecked rider to safely get off the course. The pause in action provided a little more drama than Williams would have liked.

“It allows some of the guys that weren’t going to be a factor to recover and come back,” Williams said.

Earlier in the day, David Conger Jr. won the men’s category 4-5 race, Gavin Storie won the men’s masters race, Mahika Peterson won the women’s 2-3-4 race, and Imeh Nsek won the men’s 1-2-3 race.

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