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UCI 2018 Para-Cycling Road World Championships: Noguchi’s Second Consecutive Maillot Arc-en-Ciel

The UCI 2018 Para-Cycling Road World Championships was held from August 2-5 in Maniago, Italy.
343 cyclists1 from 45 different countries participated in the tournament. The cyclists, on their tandem bikes2, bikes, trikes, and handcycles raced around a relatively flat circular course (approximately 13 kilometers per lap) in the city and the surrounding area.
1: Excluding tandem pilots
2: Bicycle that seats two people. In para-cycling, the non-sighted bicyclist rides in the back.

Four cyclists participated as part of the Japan national team—Keiko Noguchi (higher brain dysfunction; Women’s C2), Miho Fujii (right above-knee amputation; Women’s C2), Shota Kawamoto (left above-knee amputation; Men’s C2), and Kazuhei Kimura (visually impaired; Men’s B; Takuto Kurabayashi as pilot). Masaki Fujita, who had won a gold medal in the Road Race (Men’s C3) at the UCI 2015 Para-Cycling Road World Championships, and who had been expected to do well in this tournament as well, was forced to pull out after he fell while doing some pre-tournament training in Maniago, and fractured his arm.

From left to right: Kawamoto, Noguchi, Fujii, Kimura, Kurabayashi (pilot) ©JPCF

Another World Champion Title for Noguchi—a 2-Year Streak!

Noguchi (Women’s C3) first won a silver medal in the Time Trial on August 3. She then went on to win a gold medal in the Road Race on August 5, becoming the world champion for 2018.

Noguchi (center), world champion for the Road Race ©JPCF

Noguchi had won a gold medal and been a world champion in the Time Trial (Women’s C3) at this same tournament in 2017 (South Africa). However, during the Para-Cycling Track World Championships (Brazil) this March, she received a notice that she had been switched to the Women’s C2 class, with its higher level of impairment. Thus, she participated in this tournament as part of the Japan national team, alongside Miho Fujii in the Women’s C2 class. In this new class, she challenged herself yet again to the maillot arc-en-ciel (a rainbow-colored jersey given to the winners of the World Cycling Championships).

The Road Race for Women’s C2 in this tournament was 54.4 kilometers (4 laps).
“There were a lot of times I went into attack mode, but every time I was able to pull ahead, they’d catch up to me… It was just this over and over again, and I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it, but then in the final 50 meters I went into a sprint. It all went according to my coach’s plans,” said Noguchi.

Noguchi had originally been an able-bodied cyclist, until an injury during a race led to her impairment. One of her greatest strengths is the distinct sense of awareness she has as a cyclist—coordinating with cyclists from other countries, knowing how to discern opportunity, and when to go into attack mode.

“J Feminine* and the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships have a lot of similarities in terms of distance, the process, and the number of cyclists competing, and I’m grateful to be able to have these kinds of experiences in Japan. I hope that my participation in able-bodied races in Japan will make the other able-bodied cyclists feel like para-cycling is something that’s closer and more relevant to them.”
*J Feminine: The Women’s category for races in Japan that are hosted by the Japan Bicyclist Club Federation

In international para-cycling tournaments, it is normal for new para-cyclists and others with ongoing judgments to be told of a change in classification in the middle of a tournament, following private interviews with Classifiers (classification committee) before the tournament, as well as an observation during the tournament. Noguchi told us that she had not been given a specific reason for her change in classification. In the Road Race, for which she claimed victory, the Women’s C2 and C3 classes had started at the same time. “It was nice to be able to ride alongside people from my original class, because I knew them well,” she reflected.

One Step Towards a Spot in the Home Paralympic Games

Now that this tournament is over, the thing on everyone’s minds is the number of spots available for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. The number of spots allotted (for a total of 150 men and 80 women) are based on the total number of points acquired by para-cyclists from each country, in designated tournaments held from 2018 to 2020.

First, on December 31, 2018, one spot will be allotted to each of the highest-ranking countries (45 men, 25 women), with six male spots and three female spots allotted specifically to the Asia region. (The remaining spots, excluding the special quota [5 men, 5 women], are expected to be allotted to the various countries after June 7, 2020, according to their individual rankings after the road and track world championships.)

Performing well in the World Championships is vital to the Japan national team’s preparation for the Tokyo Paralympic Games, as it awards many points. The performances of Kawamoto (4th place in the Road Race, 10th place in the Time Trial) and Fujii (6th place in the Time Trial, 7th place in the Road Race) will be of great benefit to the team as a whole.

Kawamoto, who got 4th place in the Road Race (second from the front)

Though Noguchi’s change in classification was in March, there is a “RFD2019” (reevaluation in 2019) addendum for her name in the communique*. In recent years, the Japan national team had refrained from selecting multiple cyclists from the same class, as part of its point-getting strategy. The total number of points the women acquire by 2020 may change based on what classification Noguchi is given next year. We will of course keep an eye out for Noguchi, but also for the diligent efforts of 23-year old Fujii, who may just be the key to Japan getting two female spots for the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
*Communique: Documents distributed as required during tournaments, notifying teams and media personnel of event results, time changes, notices from the referees, etc.

Fujii, who got 6th place in the Time Trial

text & photo by Yuko Sato

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