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Paracycling Worlds RR Gold – Interview with Robbi Weldon and Lyne Bessette

by John Symon

August 24, 2010 (Baie Comeau, QC) – On the final day at the 2010 UCI Para-Cycling World Championships, Canada’s newly formed women’s tandem team of Robbi Weldon (B) and Lyne Bessette (Pilot) won gold in the 79.8km road race. It was a stunning victory as it was only their fourth race together. It was another great day for Team Canada as well as Geneviève Ouellet (B) and Emilie Roy (Pilot) claimed the bronze. Earlier at the championships Weldon and Bessette won silver in the women’s tandem ITT while Ouellet/Roy took the bronze helping Canada claim the highest number of podiums ever won at the Para-cycling World Championships. In total, Canada grabbed seven medals finishing 11th in the nation’s final medal standings. We caught up with the newly crowned gold medalists to find out more about their rise to stardom.

Congratulations on winning gold in the women’s tandem road race! How did you feel on race day?
RW: My coaches thought I was very calm before the race.

LB: I was soooo happy and proud of my partner! Robbi and I get along really well

Were you anticipating a gold medal ride?
RW: We had a very strong second place finish in the time trials on Friday, but our coaches (Eric Van den Eynde and Sebastien Travers) warned us that anything could happen in the road race.

LB: Winning a gold medal is always a surprise; we knew that we had a good chance but you never know how the race will go.

Tell us how the race went – what was your strategy and did things unfold as planned?
RW: At one point we were ahead, but then the motorbikes deliberately slowed us down so that the men could get by. After that the other women caught up with us again. We were ahead much of the time, but Lyne preferred riding at the back of the pack through the town of Baie Comeau so it probably looked to spectators there like we were trailing. She could read the pack better from there and knew we had the strength to attack if someone else did. There were a lot of cat and mouse games going on. I remember being beside a Dutch team when the Dutch girls looked at us and said “you pull” and Lyne said back to them, “no, you pull!”

With two laps to go, Lyne whispered to me that we would make our move and we passed a few teams. We built up a three-bike lead starting up St. George’s hill and soon that became 10 seconds. We ended up with a 53-second lead at the finish.

Do you and Lyne talk much while racing and if so what kind of info do you exchange?
RW: Yes, we communicate a lot. It’s important that I tell Lyne how I’m doing at the back because she can’t see me. I need to tell her when it’s time to feed. We also encourage each other a lot. There’s also a lot of non-verbal communication that happens through the pedals, depending on whether we tap lightly or hard. If I hear someone sneaking up from behind, I tap hard to let Lyne know.

LB: Robbi is a good co-pilot; she’s intense like me. We fit well together. She is aggressive and able to give the best of herself. She can give it all.

And the two of you are also the same age?
LB: Yes, we’re both 35 this year.

How fast did you come down St. George’s hill – is it scary going that fast?
RW: I think we hit about 85km/h coming down, which is interesting when there are 14 tandems going down in a pack.

How much cooperation was there with your Canadian team mates Ouellet/Roy in achieving your victory?
RW: We talked about strategy with the coaches. We were trying to pull each other or draft. During the race, Lyne and Emilie were often saying stuff to each other in French, but I didn’t follow what they said.

LB: It was just small talk that I exchanged with Emilie. If it had been important, I would have also told Robbi. Perhaps it would also have been a good strategy to say things in French so that some of the other teams wouldn’t understand us. Genevieve competed last year in Spain (then with Mathilde Hupin as pilot) but Canada only had one team there. You can’t really do anything with just one team. Having two strong teams is an advantage.

You’ve had very little training together on a tandem – was this only your fourth actual race that gave you the world championship women’s tandem title?
RW: Yes, this was only our fourth race together.

What’s up next for you?
RW: I’m carded for Cross Country Canada this winter and start my Nordic training in September. That training incorporates cycling. I am hoping to make the World Championships team but there are some questions because our club budget was cut and I may have to pay for some things out of my own pocket. As for Para-cycling, the season starts with the Defi Sportif in Montreal next May, there’s a World Cup here in Baie Comeau and then the Para-cycling Worlds in Denmark.

LB: The tandem season is over for this year, but we will look back at what we did right and what we could have done better. I am planning to do a 50km run this fall. And we’re going to keep going until London 2012.

Any other comments about the London 2012 Paralympics?
RW: It’s coming up fast. I have a lot more training and technical stuff to work on.

How does your training as a cross-country skier help you in cycling events?
RW: My coaches (the para-cycling coaches mentioned earlier, together with Robin McKeever for Nordic skiing) are drawing up a training program that will work for both sports.

Robbi, your bio on the Vancouver 2010 Games site lists “cycling” as your first hobby. What kind of cycling were you doing before hopping on a tandem with Lyne?
RW: When my vision was better I did more on my own but now I ride behind friends. I usually ride a dual-suspension mountain bike around town because I was afraid of getting flats on a road bike, but my boyfriend bought me a Giant road bike this year.

Robbi, can you briefly describe your visual impairment (Stargardt’s Disease – a genetic form of macular degeneration affecting central vision)? Is your condition similar to that of xc skier Brian McKeever?
RW: Yes, I have the same condition as Brian. It’s caused by pigmentation on the macula, inhibiting central vision. But I still have good peripheral vision. I don’t use a cane, but probably should! I use my hearing a lot, watch others, and memorize layouts so that I can get around. Receiving handshakes and flowers on the podium can be a challenge for me. And Lyne often picks up when I can’t see something.

You’re a mother of two and work as a recreational therapeutist in Thunder Bay – tell us more about yourself.
RW: I have a 10-year old daughter (Keegan) and a six-year-old son (Alex), and I am turning 35 on September 6. I am fortunate to have a very accommodating employer at St. Joseph’s Rehabilitation Hospital and they let me alternate from from full-time to casual employment to facilitate my training. I just had a telephone call to say that I am starting a three-week full-time shift again next week.

What is your most vivid memory at Sunday’s gold medal ride?
RW: For me, it was standing at the top of the podium and singing “O Canada.” That was a very emotional moment. But coming down St. George’s Hill at 85km/h was also quite something!

LB: My most vivid memory was at the finish line on Sunday.

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