William Bjergfelt (right) rides in the breakaway group on the second stage of the Tour of Britain 2021
Swift Carbon Racing rider William Bjergfelt hopes to inspire other athletes to “believe that anything is possible” after becoming the first para-cyclist to compete in the Tour of Britain.
Bjergfelt, from Bristol, was involved in a head-on collision with a car in 2015, in which he suffered a brain hemorrhage and splintered his right leg into 25 pieces.
His leg was reconstructed with three titanium plates, but he was told at the time that he would never ride a bike again, let alone race.
Six years later, now aged 42, Bjergfelt made his Tour of Britain debut this year, becoming the second oldest contestant the race has ever had and also the first para-cyclist to start.
“I kind of pinch myself every morning, just trying to tell myself that I’m not dreaming and I’m actually here. I’ve wanted to drive this since I was a child, I can remember the days of the milk race (the previous incarnation of the tour)”, said Bjergfelt.
“In 2011 I was very close to driving but was tricked at the last minute, two days before the Tour of Britain started. Part of me thought my chance might be lost.
“2015 was a really good year for me and I had a tentative team contract for 2016 so I thought that maybe if I’m good enough, I might get a chance.
“But then the accident happened while the team I agreed to be driving for was driving the Tour of Britain.”
Bjergfelt drove for Great Britain at Paracycling International in Yorkshire in 2019
Prior to his 2015 accident, Bjergfelt was a mountain biker who competed in the XCO World Cup series, but after that he hit the streets and started his paracycling career with the support of British Cycling. He is now competing in the C5 discipline for athletes who meet the minimum impairment criteria.
Then in 2019 he joined the British Continental team Swift Carbon – a third tier UCI team. Bjergfelt’s job as a domestic is to support his teammates instead of racing for himself. The racing experience he is gaining in the UK and across Europe also fuels his paracycling ambitions.
Meanwhile, Bjergfelt balances his racing sport with a career with an aerospace company. It is in stark contrast to most of its rivals in the Tour of Britain, such as road world champion Julian Alaphilippe, Olympic medalist Wout van Aert or Tour de France stage record holder Mark Cavendish.
Inspiration to others
Bjergfelt isn’t the first para-athlete to compete for a trading team. Sarah Storey who became Britain’s most decorated Paralympian Often ridden in non-Para races this summer, especially for a 2018 squad of the same name. Nevertheless, the proportion of Para riders in the professional cycling peloton is low.
“This is one of the big things I really want to get out of. I want to inspire people to believe in themselves and to believe that anything is possible. This is one of the big things I want to convey to people.” said Bjergfelt.
“I’m incredibly proud of that. I spoke to Mark Cavendish for the first 20 minutes of Wednesday’s stage (Phase 4) and told him what a legend I thought he was, that he came back from some sort of on the verge. ” to end his career last year and win four stages of the Tour de France this year.
“We chatted about me too and he said ‘buddy, you are the legend’ and I said ‘no, no you are’. We just laughed. You couldn’t write it – it was just like, pinch me. “
Bjergfelt makes his Tour of Britain debut
Bjergfelt’s trip to the home tour in September is even more remarkable when you consider he broke his left leg in April as well. The injury put an end to his hopes of competing in the Tokyo Paralympics that summer, but it was only three weeks before he started cycling again after he was stuck with pins and plates in his leg.
He competed in the Paracycling World Championships in June in the C5 time trial and road racing, finishing ninth and 15th before focusing on preparing for the Tour of Britain start on Sunday in Cornwall.
He demonstrated his credentials at the front of the race in the runaway with five riders on stage two in Devon.
“I just love the sport. In a strange way, it saved my life,” added Bjergfelt.
“I’ve already agreed with British Cycling to continue to Paris (Paralympics 2024). I still have something to do there, I want to go to the Paralympics and get away with three gold medals to show them what I’m capable of , that will definitely be a goal in the future.
“At the same time, at 49, Malcolm Elliott is the oldest person to compete in the Tour of Britain. I want to take that title away from him. I’ll go ahead and see if I can take it from him.”