A Spanish handbiker paralysed from the chest down who is seeking to raise awareness for the disabled by riding from Madrid to the 2012 London Olympics crossed paths with the Tour de France in Pau.
A keen athlete and bike rider before and after he was hit by a car in Kansas during the Race Across America endurance event in 2010 and partially paralysed, Diego Ballesteros, a 38-year-old from Barbastro, Aragon, has always relished such long-distance challenges - such as from Zaragoza, Spain, to Beijing’s Olympic Games in 2008 in 100 days.
“My aim then was to link the biggest event in Spain” - the Universal Expo exhibition in Zaragoza - “heading down the Marco Polo silk route with the biggest sporting event in the world,” Ballesteros told Cyclingnews.
“I’ve always enjoyed riding as something self-sufficent and a way in which you can get to see other parts of the world.
“This, though, is part of a personal challenge called 'Cycling To Conquer Disability', my objective is to ride from Madrid to London’s Olympic Games.
“My first aim to show that a disability doesn’t have to hold us back from fulfilling our dreams - and the same goes for anybody who goes through tough moments right now can overcome them.”
After spending the night in Pau with his back-up team who are travelling and sleeping overnight in a specially adapted support vehicle (in which he will return from London to Madrid), Ballesteros rode with the Movistar team when they went out training on their rest day before continuing on his 90 kilometre leg for the day up through France towards Roquefort. Covering between 60 and 100 kilometres a day, he hopes to reach London in a total of 25 days, crossing the Channel by ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven.
“I should get there on July 29th, reaching London on the 30th or 31st. In the last part of that ride to Beijing I was joined by an English guy called Mike, who’s a very good friend now, and he’ll be cycling with me in England for the last part of this ride, too.”
“My dream is to reach the Olympic stadiums, but I don’t know if I will be allowed to do that,” Ballesteros said. “It would be the ideal finish, though.”
He had a difficult time in Madrid’s Sierras and when passing round the northern foothills of the Pyrenees, and suffered badly on both mountain ranges because of arm muscle overload and the extreme heat. Having taken 11 days to cover the approximately 650 kilometres from the Spanish capital to Pau, Ballesteros is on target for London, another 700 kilometres away which he expects to take another 14 days. And he’s had some of the biggest names in the sport come out to encourage him.
Pedro Delgado in Madrid and Miguel Indurain in Navarre have ridden part of the way alongside him in Spain, whilst Alberto Contador has sent him a message of support and wishing him good luck - “Alberto and me share the same motto: if you want to do something, you can [querer es poder in Spanish]” - and in Pau, he has linked up with Movistar.
“I’ve had some very tough times so far, but I’m feeling good right now and I’m confident I should get there.”
Those wishing to follow Ballesteros' progress through France can follow him at the following blog: www.nohayretoimposible.blogspot.com
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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