Sarah Storey chases 11th cycling gold with greatness in reach
This afternoon Sarah Storey will ride out of Brands Hatch and through the wooded Kent countryside, pedal up Gorse Hill, down Scratchers Lane and on towards the prize of an 11th Paralympic gold medal. If, and it is one of sport's less questionable ifs, she secures it Storey will draw level with Tanni Grey-Thompson and Dave Roberts as Britain's most decorated Paralympian.
Yesterday Storey flew around the eight-kilometre course to secure gold in the C5 time trail, winning by an emphatic margin of 94 seconds from Poland's Anna Harkowska. It was her third gold of London 2012 and the 10th of a career that began as a 14-year-old swimmer in Barcelona 20 years ago – where she first met Grey-Thompson and won the first two gold medals.
"Tanni was right there and very supportive of this new, young girl," said Storey. "She helped me through that first Games, helped me flourish. I can't believe I've been put on the same page as her. Tanni's a good friend and an incredible athlete. Even being thought of in the same breath is an honour."
Today's determining task comes in the road race, 64km or eight laps of the undulating course to yesterday's two. It will be the first time Storey has ridden the event in the Paralympics and she will be a marked woman, an experience that is far from a novel one.
"The girls will all be gunning to beat me," said Storey. "But you get used to being marked. The road has been where all my preparation has been done. I really needed to nail this one. Having watched the success of the Olympic team on the road – Bradley Wiggins winning the time trial and Chris Froome getting bronze – I just wanted to make sure that I added my name to that list of success."
Day one of road racing was another good one for Britain's cyclists. First on to the podium was Mark Colbourne with a silver in the men's C1 time trial. The Welshman added it to his gold and silver from the Velodrome in what has been a successful Paralympic debut. He celebrated with a cup of tea and a Welsh cake. Handcyclist Karen Darke won silver in the H1-2 time trial and tricyclist David Stone bronze in the T1-2 time trial.
Storey, though, is the team's standard bearer. "She's the pure professional through and through," said Colbourne. "To make the transition from swimming to cycling and rule her category is an amazing achievement. Every one of the riders takes inspiration from her. The old saying goes, you're known for the company you keep."
The company that is dearest to Storey has also been crucial to her sporting success on the bike. Barney Storey, who took gold and silver as a tandem pilot in the Velodrome, has laid many of the foundations on which Storey's outstanding success has been built.
When she switched sports in the wake of the Athens Paralympics, it was Barney who sat her down in front of the Tour de France and other races and delivered a cycling education. But, come her first Games on the bike, she still saw herself as a relative novice.
"I went into Beijing as a swimmer on a bike – a fish out of water," said Storey. "My body shape has changed since then and I'm now firmly a cyclist. The discipline swimming has given me has enabled me to train on my own for hours on end. That discipline is something you can't replace."
She has five swimming golds, collected from four Games, along with seven silver and three bronze, and five cycling golds, gathered here and in Beijing. Grey-Thompson, a competitor in five Games, won four of her 11 gold medals in Barcelona (she won four silver and a bronze as well) – where Storey, then Sarah Bailey, became Britain's youngest Paralympic gold medallist, a record taken off her by Ellie Simmonds in Beijing. Roberts won 11 golds, four silver and a bronze in the pool between 2000 and 2008.
"You can't write history books, they are for other people to write," said Storey. "You can only do your best. I love riding my bike, I love being an athlete. My motivation is to do that for as long as possible, for as long as I am good enough to win medals. I can't turn my back on this flag and this country – I just love it."
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