‘Not for everyone’ – Brave para-cyclists put trust in hands of ‘pilots’

Scotland's Neil Fachie (R) and pilot Matt Rotherham have won two B&VI cycling gold medals at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Brisbane (Australia) (AFP) – Imagine hurtling around a heavily steeped track at 70 kilometres (45 miles) an hour on the back of a tandem. Now imagine doing it with severely limited vision. 

Sound terrifying? Spare a thought then for the gutsy men and women who ride in vision-impaired (B&VI) cycling.

The adrenaline-filled competition is among the para-sports at the ongoing Commonwealth Games in Australia — and riders have been smashing records.

On Saturday, Scotland’s Neil Fachie and his able-bodied “pilot” Matt Rotherham obliterated the opposition and tore up the history books at a capacity 4,000 crowd at Anna Meares Velodrome in Brisbane.

The 34-year-old Fachie, a pocket dynamo, broke his own sprint world record with a new time of 9.568sec on the way to winning gold.

It was his second gold of the Games, adding to his growing haul of world, Paralympic and Commonwealth titles.

Fachie, who was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare, genetic disorder, said trust in the pilot steering at the front of the tandem was vital.

It is a trust that Fachie and Rotherham have had to build up quickly, because they have only been paired up since December.

“Obviously at the back of a tandem, travelling at the speeds we get up to, it’s not for everyone,” said Fachie, whose wife Lora is also a highly decorated para-cyclist.

“I love the adrenaline and obviously you need to put a lot of your trust in your pilot.”

Fachie, who was a talented runner before turning to cycling, said he and Rotherham “gel”.

“We had to go through a selection process, it’s decided by British Cycling, it’s not up to us who we ride with,” added Fachie.

The solidly built Rotherham said part of their success at the Gold Coast is to do with their contrasting styles.  

“He is very powerful, very punchy, whereas I’ve always tended to have good back end, more like a diesel engine or V8 compared to a V12.”

Theirs is a relationship that, while recent, has been intense in the past few weeks.

“We’ve spent the best part of a month together, sharing rooms, so we’ve got to know each other pretty well,” said Rotherham.

“No fights as yet so I think we’re doing pretty well!”

– ‘Dream team’ –

Also breaking B&VI records and grabbing two golds at the Commonwealth Games is England’s Sophie Thornhill, 22, who was born with oculocutaneous albinism, a condition which affects colouring of the skin, hair, and eyes. 

Her pilot Helen Scott said key to their victories was that they know each other so well, after being partners for four years.

“And we’re really good friends. I’ve got no doubt that really helps, getting along well together and being comfortable enough to have those conversations when training’s not going so well and pushing each other every day,” said Scott.

“I spend more time with Sophie than I do with my family and friends.

“It’s a really special partnership and we trust each other 100 percent and as the years have gone by we’ve just synched together.

“It’s a dream team.”