Yorkshire 2019 Para-cycling International: Paralympic champions Menna Fitzpatrick and Jen Kehoe to swap skis for tandem bike


Fitzpatrick and Kehoe won slalom gold at the 2018 Paralympics, as well as super combined and giant slalom silver plus super-g bronze

Going downhill is their bread and butter.

But Menna Fitzpatrick and Captain Jen Kehoe face an uphill battle, quite literally, when they swap their skis for a tandem bike in September.

Some 15 months have passed since visually impaired alpine skier Fitzpatrick and her guide Kehoe won four medals, including a gold, at the Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang.

Since then, however, they haven’t stopped, leaving them in desperate need of a “mental break”. But that doesn’t mean they are putting their feet up.

Instead, they’re swapping sports – temporarily – to tackle the Yorkshire 2019 Para-cycling International on 21 September, and it’s proving quite the challenge.

“When we’re skiing, we’re not attached in any way,” 21-year-old Fitzpatrick, who has only 3% vision, told BBC Sport.

“So to then suddenly go from not being attached to attached on a tandem, with no control, is a little strange, but it’s good fun.

“It’s a completely different feeling on a bike. I don’t have control, I can’t put the brakes on.”

September’s race will see Fitzpatrick and 35-year-old Kehoe – a serving soldier with the Royal Engineers – cover 106.2km from Beverley to Harrogate.

It marks the first time a para-cycling event has taken place alongside the UCI Road World Championships, and while both Fitzpatrick and Kehoe are keen and competent cyclists, their past experiences have been purely for fitness purposes.

“The one thing that is going to be really different is the length of time we’re cycling for,” Kehoe says. “In skiing, we’re training for four hours up in the mountains but you do relatively short efforts.

“The communication is quite similar in a way; we need to talk when we’re stopping, talk when we’re starting, talk when we’re going round a bend.

“The difference is that they are slightly unusual commands, like there have a been a few low branches so it’s ‘duck!’ or ‘dog!’ – you don’t get that on skis very much.”

‘It’s a test of our friendship’

Menna Fitzpatrick and Jen Kehoe on their tandem bike

Kehoe is 14 years Fitzpatrick’s senior but these two are the very best of friends. Watch them together and you see one feed off the other’s energy, so close they could be sisters.

It’s a closeness they need when they are hurtling down a mountain at 70mph, Fitzpatrick relying on Kehoe to guide her down to safety in one piece.

But cycling, they admit, could put their friendship “to the test”.

“It’s a test of our team and hopefully our strengths in all of those things,” Kehoe adds.

“We went cycling with some friends a few weeks ago and they thought it would be a good idea to take us down a canal tow path to take us away from cars, which in theory is a great idea, but there were some low bridges.

“I had the choice on a path that was no more than 75cm wide to either go close to the edge so Menna didn’t hit her head on the low bridge but risk falling in the water, or just let Menna get clunked on the head. I did find a happy medium, I just told to her to stay as still as possible.”

There’s little doubt these two will be back on the mountains as soon as they can. When asked if they would continue skiing for the foreseeable future, they replied in perfect unison: “Yes.”

Fitzpatrick adds: “Skiing is our comfortable place.”

They admit they have had “talks” with British Cycling but “completing the race” is their main aim, according to Fitzpatrick.

But could cycling become a permanent fixture in their sporting lives? Skiing in the winter and cycling in the summer?

“We’ll get back to you on that one.”

BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame this summer to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women’s sport available to watch across the BBC this summer, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women’s sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.

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