PARA Cycling duo share trust in abundance and a desire to succeed, finds Moira Gordon
CRAIG MacLean is a Commonwealth Games veteran. In fact, in sporting terms, he has probably edged into whatever category comes next. However, even at an experienced 42 years old, he admits that this time things will be different.
A gold medallist in the team sprint in Melbourne – to add to the bronze he won in the same event in Manchester in 2002 – he will still hurtle round the velodrome this summer, his sturdy legs pumping like pistons in the hunt for gold.
This time, though, he will be on a bicycle built for two, competing in the Para Cycling. Neil Fachie, who is visually impaired, will be helping propel them round the slopes and straights, but it will be the experienced MacLean who will be piloting them.
“It’s great to get this opportunity now and hopefully we can showcase how great tandem racing is,” says Fachie, who competed in athletics at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing before switching his attentions to cycling ahead of London 2012. There he rode with Barney Storey and won gold and silver. MacLean won gold with Anthony Kappes and now, having switched partners, the Scots are hoping for more success in Glasgow in a couple of weeks.
It’s not a completely new team, though, the pair having competed successfully as a unit in the past.
“Neil and I won our first World Championships together on the tandem and leading up to London it was difficult to decide who was going to ride with who because there’s not a lot to choose between Anthony and Neil,” explains MacLean. “Anthony has subsequently retired, which means there isn’t going to be an English tandem, so that’s potentially good for us and makes our job a little bit easier. It was only ever going to be Neil and I riding for Scotland.”
It’s still cycling, but there are noticeable differences for MacLean, who says that he does not view the para cycling as a second chance after illness, injury and bad timing undoubtedly undermined his hopes at key moments in what has still been a very successful career.
“Not at all. I just feel very fortunate that, at age 42, I’m still allowed to do it. Sometimes it feels more like a job so I’m not glory hunting in any way – I’m just doing it because I can do it. I’m very fortunate.
“It doesn’t motivate me any more than when I was just competing for myself because you always give it 100 per cent. In terms of the actual effort you put in, it doesn’t really change things. But it is obviously different because now I’m there on behalf of Neil. Of course I’m there by some sort of merit, but I’m doing it for Neil’s sake as much as my own selfish sake.”
It calls for a lot of trust. “Particularly a lot if you are at the back,” states 30-year-old Fachie. “Obviously I’m trusting Craig to get me around the track without dying hopefully – so far, so good! But because this is the only cycling I’ve ever known, it’s OK. I guess if someone like Craig were to jump on the back he’d find it incredibly difficult because he’d want to be steering it, whereas I’m happy just to go where he goes. There has to be a lot of faith in each other. You’ve got to be completely committed to racing because as part of a team you don’t want to be getting up there and not trusting who you’re riding with. But I think Craig and I will be pretty well synced up by the time the Games come around.”
Both men are looking forward to it. The joy of competing for the first time as intense as that experienced by someone who has already been there, done it and got the T-shirt and the medals to prove it.
“I feel lucky I suppose,” says MacLean, “given that I never thought I’d see a home Commonwealth Games and I never thought I’d be riding in a velodrome named after a good team-mate of mine. When it was announced I always thought, ‘hopefully I’ll be there in some capacity’, but I never thought I’d actually get to compete.”