Cambridge para-cyclist Eltje Malzbender is a step closer to the Tokyo Paralympics after a successful – and eventful – world championship performance.
Malzbender has returned from The Netherlands as a double world champion after winning both the women’s T1 road race and time trial at the UCI Para Cycling World Championships –being the first one to the finish line even after crashing in the final lap of the road race.
The cyclist has spent three years recovering from a traumatic brain injury after a presumed hit-and-run accident, defying the expectations of doctors who feared she would never walk or talk again.
As a former competitive cyclist, she returned to the cycling game on three wheels and has been beating the odds ever since – competing at world champs and world cup competitions and bringing home two gold medals from the paracycling world cup in May.
Now with two more gold medals and a coveted rainbow jersey under her belt, the German-born New Zealander feels confident she’ll qualify for the Toyko Paralympics next year.
After a whirlwind world cup campaign she returned home to Cambridge on Saturday, confirming her face has mostly healed after receiving four stitches.
“When I crashed I just thought straight away, carry on. They came and helped me back up, clicked me back into the pedals, and off I went. Not for one second did I think oh that’s a good excuse to stop, I only thought, it’s not finished, carry on.
“I counted the seconds in between the blood dripping down and that didn’t change, and I thought, yep, I can finish.”
Malzbender even waited through the prize giving ceremony followed by a randomly-selected doping test before finally going to the hospital for stitches.
NZ paracycling performance head coach Stuart McDonald described her ride as “so gutsy”.
A self-confessed “slow starter”, Eltje initially started both the road race and time trial with most of the competitors getting ahead, but soon caught up and passed them.
“The road race was always going got be difficult for me because (due to her brain injury) I can only focus on one thing at a time, and it started with having to chase two women.”
She raced to a 48 second lead over the field before crashing on a corner, breaking her handlebars and smashing her face in the process. “They tell me within thirty seconds I was back on the bike, that was certainly an even bigger success than winning.”
She even managed to increase her lead again in the final stages of the 22.2km race before winning with a time of 51 minutes 46 seconds – 12 seconds ahead of Canada’s Shelley Gautier.
Malzbender also finished the time trial over 90 seconds ahead of the pack.
“The time trial was really satisfying, especially as I theoretically would have beaten the T2 (lesser-disabled) riders,” she said.
Not to be outdone, she confirmed she will defend her world champ titles next year.