Swift Carbon Racing rider William Bjergfelt hopes to inspire other athletes “to believe anything is possible” after becoming the first para-cyclist to compete in the Tour of Britain.
Bjergfelt, from Somerset, was involved in a head-on collision with a car in 2015 which left him with a bleed on the brain and his right leg shattered into 25 pieces.
His leg was reconstructed with three titanium plates but he was told at the time he would never ride a bike again, let alone race one.
Six years on, now aged 42, Bjergfelt made his Tour of Britain debut this year, becoming the second oldest participant the race has ever had and also the first para-cyclist to take to the start line.
“I’m kind of pinching myself every morning, just trying to tell myself that I’m not dreaming and I am actually here. I’ve wanted to race this since I was a kid, I can remember the days of the Milk Race (the Tour’s previous incarnation),” Bjergfelt said.
“In 2011 I came very close to riding but got flicked at the very last minute, two days before the start of the Tour of Britain. There was part of me that thought maybe my chance was lost.
“2015 I had a really good year and I’d sort of provisionally agreed a contract for a team for 2016, so I thought maybe I’ll get a chance if I’m good enough.
“But then the accident happened whilst the team I agreed to ride for was racing the Tour of Britain.”
Prior to his 2015 accident, Bjergfelt was a mountain biker who competed in the XCO World Cup series, but he was drawn to the road after and began his para-cycling career with the support of British Cycling. He now competes in the C5 discipline for athletes who meet the minimum impairment criteria.
In 2019 he then joined British Continental squad Swift Carbon – a third tier UCI team. As a domestique, Bjergfelt’s role is to support his team-mates rather than race for himself, with the level of racing experience he gains across the UK and around Europe also boosting his ambitions in para-cycling.
All the while, Bjergfelt also balances his racing with a career at an aerospace firm. It’s a stark contrast to the majority of his rivals at the Tour of Britain, such as road world champion Julian Alaphilippe, Olympic medallist Wout van Aert or Tour de France stage record holder Mark Cavendish.
Inspiration to others
Bjergfelt is not the first para athlete to race for a trade team. Sarah Storey, who became Great Britain’s most decorated Paralympian ever this summer, raced frequently in non-para races, most notably for an eponymous squad from 2018. Yet representation of para riders remains slight among the professional cycling peloton.
“That’s one of the big things that I want to come out of this really. I want to inspire people to believe in themselves and believe anything is possible. That’s one of the big things that I want to get across for people,” Bjergfelt said.
“I’m incredibly proud of it. For the first 20 minutes of Wednesday’s stage (stage 4) I was chatting with Mark Cavendish and telling him what a legend I thought he was, that he had come back from sort of being on the verge of ending his career last year, to this year winning four stages of the Tour de France.
“We were chatting about myself as well, and he was like ‘mate, you’re the legend’ and I was like ‘no, no you are’. We were just laughing. You couldn’t write it – it was just like, pinch me.”
A second break
Bjergfelt’s journey to this September’s home tour is even more remarkable when considering he also broke his left leg in April. The injury ended his hopes of competing in Tokyo at the Paralympics this summer, but still it only took three weeks before he was back on his bike training, after having pins and plates put into his leg.
He competed in June’s Para-cycling World Championships in the C5 time trial and road race, finishing ninth and 15th, before concentrating on getting ready for Sunday’s Tour of Britain start in Cornwall.
He showcased his credentials at the head of the race as part of the five-rider breakaway on stage two in Devon.
“I just love the sport. In a strange way it kind of saved my life,” Bjergfelt added.
“I’ve already agreed with British Cycling to continue on to Paris (Paralympics 2024). I’ve got unfinished business there, I’d like to go to the Paralympics and come out of it 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, Malcolm Elliott is the oldest person to race the Tour of Britain at the moment at 49. I want that title off him. I’m going to keep going, see if I can get it off him.”