Manchester’s cycling gold medal factory at Sportcity has worked overtime this year, training two-wheeled wonders for Olympic and Paralympic action.
Double Olympic champions, Sir Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny and Laura Trott led the gold rush at London 2012 as Britain topped the medal table.
Now, it’s the turn of Team GB’s Paralympians to grab a slice of the glory. And hopes are high at the National Cycling Centre they can achieve similar results.
A total of 18 riders will be in action in London, including four able-bodied cyclists – Craig Maclean, Barney Storey, Helen Scott and Fiona Duncan – tandem pilots for their visibly impaired ‘stoker’ team-mates.
For the likes of Mancunian Sarah Storey, Stockport’s Anthony Kappes, Jody Cundy, Aileen McGlynn and Darren Kenny, they’ve all experienced a Paralympic Games before.
But it’s a step into the unknown for Sale-based Jon-Allan Butterworth.
The 26-year-old RAF weapons technician lost his left arm during a rocket attack on Basra Air Station in Iraq five years ago. A couple of months after his operation, he met
British coaches during a Paralympics GB talent ID day at Loughborough University.
As a result, he signed up for track action through the Battle Back scheme, a joint scheme administered by Paralympics GB and the Ministry of Defence to help wounded service personnel return to an active life. Dad-of-one Butterworth has taken huge strides since winning his first National sprint titles at Manchester’s famous Velodrome in September 2010.
World kilo titles followed in 2011 and 2012 including a C5, IK time trial world record of 1:07.212 seconds in Los Angeles back in February.
Such has been his dedication and talent since embarking on his new sporting career, Butterworth was chosen ahead of golden boy Cundy, one of Britain’s best known Paralympians , to partner Kenny and Rik Waddon, for the team sprint.
Their battle for swimmer turned cyclist Cundy’s individual crown promises to be one of the highlights of the track programme.
“It was a very difficult decision,” agreed performance manager Gareth Sheppard. “There is literally nothing separating the two athletes but it’s a decision we had to make.”
Butterworth agreed: “The competition within the British squad is so great, and there were obviously people who lost out in the selection process.
“Hopefully, there will be some good battles on the track and on the road. I am going for all of them – five events – and it’s my first Games as well, so there is no pressure!
“I have been on an amazing journey and I have lots of people to thank,” said Butterworth, not known for suffering fools gladly.
“I’m pretty stubborn,” he admitted. “Even when I’m wrong, and I know I’m wrong, I will sometimes refuse to back down and admit it.”
Recently, he risked the wrath of his fellow Paralympians stating: “There are some sports which just have a laugh.
“Scrap all their funding, give it to the cyclists and we’ll win double the medals we already do.” Britain’s Olympic stars justified their huge £26m funding budget. In contrast, para cycling received £4.2m for a period covering 2009-2013.
The Beijing Paralympics yielded 20 medals, 17 of them gold, including a track and road double for Mancunian Storey.
The target over the next 12 days will be 15-23 medals.
“I get paid to do my job and my job is to go as fast as I can on the bike to win medals to fund my podium place on the programme,” said Butterworth.
However, there is a fun side to the snowboard-loving ex RAF technician. “ I do like to take my prosthetic hand off and clamp it to people or objects from time to time,” he admitted. “It never fails to freak them out!” Butterworth isn’t the only former soldier on the British Cycling Paralympic programme.
But, unfortunately, for Lancastrian Terry ‘Tel’ Byrne, he narrowly missed the cut for London selection despite competing at two Paralympic World Championships.
A corporal in the Second Battalion Parachute Regiment, he may now consider leaving ‘Civvy Street’ once more.
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Byrne, a former light heavyweight boxer, lost part of his right leg after stepping on a mine in Afghanistan.
“If I get kicked off the GB team for whatever reason, I will be straight back to Afghan,” he told MEN Sport in a previous interview.
“I joined the Army in 2003 to fight. And anyone who knows me, knows I’d go back out there in a heartbeat. I’ll go and fight 100 Taliban tomorrow, it wouldn’t bother me.”
Like Butterworth, MacLean makes a Paralympic debut, 12 years after winning a team sprint silver at the Sydney Olympics with Sir Chris Hoy and Jason Queally. The Wilmslow-based star partners Kappes in the tandem against Barney Storey and Altrincham-based Neil Fachie.
Storey, husband of Sarah, won two golds with Kappes in Beijing, but insisted: “It wouldn’t matter if Chris Hoy was sat on the tandem opposite, it wouldn’t change my approach to how Neil and I plan to attack the race.
“Myself and Anthony are good friends. But it makes no difference who the opposition is once you are on the track.
“They could be from any country in the world because your main goal is to beat them. As soon as you have finished, you shake hands and you are mates again.
“I can see how it could be a problem to some people but it’s easy, really.
“I’d be lying if I said we weren’t close to our best. The whole team is going really well and tuned in to the fact, this opportunity only comes round every four years.
“Everyone is relaxed and can’t wait to start.”
The action gets underway on the track on Thursday.