It is less than three years since two complete strangers met, took a leap of faith and formed an unbreakable bond.
One was already a Paralympic cyclist, the other was a Dundalk garda based in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, who cycled and did Ironman triathlons in her spare time.
The setting could not have been more prosaic — the Swords road dual carriageway near Dublin Airport — with its succession of potentially hazardous roundabouts.
That was the morning partially sighted cyclist Katie George Dunlevy placed her trust in Eve McCrystal and, within minutes, knew this rookie was the one she wanted as her new tandem pilot.
“I just felt it straight away, I can feel when someone’s nervous on a bike, if something’s not quite right,” Dunlevy explained. “But I felt at ease with Eve straight away. She just went for it!
“Since then it’s just grown. I have absolute trust in her, even the times we’ve crashed. I can feel her drive and determination and I’m the same.”
She was speaking in the mixed zone of Rio’s Paralympic velodrome yesterday, a cauldron that invites visiting journalists to feel very inadequate about themselves.
All around you cyclists, with all number and manner of physical impairment, whizz about with breathtaking speed, balance and grace.
Dunlevy and McCrystal finished seventh in the women’s tandem ‘kilo’, matching their ranking with a new personal best of 1:12.33.
The kilo is a 1,000m time trial, a sprint event that is not their forte, which is the 3km Pursuit tomorrow.
Yet still they hit an average speed of 49.7kph on a brake-less, gear-less bike, in arguably the most dramatic track race of the day.
Australia’s Gallagher and Janssen, who went off third last, went at warp speed to set a new Paralympic record (1:08.71). Yet Britain’s Thornhill and Scott then smashed it further with 1:06.28, just short of the world record.
Only the final pairing, Klaasen and Dolman, could rob them. But not only had the Dutch to be content with silver (in 1:07.5) but, during their two-lap warm-down, the stadium was rocked with a massive bang when they were suddenly splattered on the deck, victims of a dramatic tyre blowout.
In the 3km Pursuit, Ireland’s pair will be paced by coach Neil Delahaye, who will call out their splits as they pass. But the kilo is an eyeballs out, flat 1,000m sprint that doesn’t broker the exchange of a single word.
“Speak? I can’t even breathe!” McCrystal exclaimed. “The kilo is the worst thing you can make us do. Your legs are just hanging with a lap to go.”
“It’s not our event but our goal was to get a PB and to get that is great. For the 3km, we’re going for the gold right from the start, you have to go into it thinking that way.”
Two other impressive Irish cyclists also began their Paralympic campaign yesterday.
Galway’s Eoghan Clifford finished fourth in the C3 Individual Pursuit in 3:38.8 to reach the bronze medal race against Canada’s Michael Sametz.
Colin Lynch, another former world track medallist, finished fifth in the C2 Pursuit.
Most striking though was the tandem pair’s physical and psychological harmony.
The only thing they seemed genuinely unprepared for was the giant banner that Eve’s cousin Orla unfurled in the stands. ‘Good Luck Mammy & Katie! Love Ava & Nessa’, was the message from Eve’s young daughters.
Did she see it?
“Oh I knew it was there alright, I just couldn’t look at it,” she said, her voice catching as the inseparable duo headed for the ice baths.
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