Britons, David Weir and Shelly Woods came out on top in this year's 'toughest' and 'fastest' wheelchair race on the planet. The 2 km underground route with its exhilarating 70kmph downhill and a brutal uphill climb drew a start grid from Great Britain, Spain, Italy, France, USA and Canada, boasting 26 Paralympic medallists, three of them Beijing gold medallists.
The men's hot favourite was Englishman David Weir, back to the tunnel after a two-year absence. Said Weir, "I've had a relaxed year since Beijing, doing the training and races that I wanted to do. I have put in so much work I feel fitter than I've been for a long time".
"I've got to watch Josh Cassidy, he's done very well this year and there are a couple of boys from across the water, Spain's Roger Verdaguer and France's Denis LeMeunier who could also win it".
A close race was always anticipated for the women with gold, silver and bronze medallists from the Beijing 5000m final, all on the front line - American Amanda McGrory, Canada's Diane Roy (last year's Tunnel winner) and Britain's Shelly Woods. Before the race, Amanda McGrory said "It's my first time at tunnel so I'm anxious to see just how steep the downhill is. So, I have that to contend with as well as Diane and Shelly who are always tough competitors".
1 David Weir Great Britain 4.04.9
2 Josh Cassidy Canada 4.12.8
3 Roger Verdageur Spain 4.42.5
The men's race opened with a blistering sprint for the Tunnel portal. Weir hit the front with T53 100m world record holder Mickey Bushell) right on his tail. 10 m behind was Cassidy of Canada. 10m behind him was GB's Patel, Verdageur of Spain and LeMeunier of France all jostling for space between the concrete road edgings and traffic cones from the ongoing construction works of the 'new Tyne Tunnel 2'.
Just beyond the portal, and the athletes are moving too fast to push and they tuck down for the free-wheeling decent. Weir's weight and stream lining opened up a 30m lead with Cassidy hot on his tail. 1 minute 18 seconds into the race, the athletes hit the belly of the river, Cassidy slipped into first place, followed by Weir and Patel.
Cassidy was pushing hard and looking strong as he took on the hill but Weir looked stronger. As the lactic took its effect on the Canadian, Weir chose his moment to power past and reopen his 30m lead. 100m back, the battle for 3rd place was on with LeMeunier chasing down Verdageur.
At the line, it was Weir's phenomenal strength and condition that gave him a 4.04.09 victory, 7.9 seconds clear of the 2008 defending Cassidy. First time entrant to the T2K, Spaniard Roger Verdageur, came home in third with a respectable 4.42.5. Frenchman LeMeunier was fourth and in fifth was a the young Welsh prodigy form Wales, Daniel Lucker - a superb first time effort by him.
David Weir hit 44 mph on the downhill but number 17, England's Jason Gill again claimed 'fastest downhill dood' with an astonishing unofficial 48mph!
1 Shelly Woods, Great Britain 5.33.4
2 Amanda McGrory, USA 5.33.9
3 Diane Roy, Canada 6.00.5
In the women's race - the gold, silver and bronze medallists from the 5000m Beijing gave us a race to remember.
Diane Roy was first off the line with Italian Francesca Porcellato away in second place. Then came Shelly Woods and USA's Amanda McGrory pretty much side-by-side. The Canadian has a reputation for being incredibly fast on the downhill and by the time Roy hit the bottom of the tunnel her impressive 38 miles an hour put her 2 seconds ahead of the comfortable but cautious McGrory and 11 seconds ahead of Woods.
At this point in the race the smart money was on the lighter McGrory to win but the shrewd punters would be well aware of Shelly Woods' unbelievable climbing ability. Sure enough, on the uphill, McGrory nipped into first place and started to pull away from Roy. It looked like a done deal but out of the shadows came the 'hill-killer' and by the time they hit the exit portal, Shelly Woods was perched on the US gold medallists rear wheel. McGrory had the inside line as Woods made her move and pulled out of the slip stream.
Then came the controversy - as the two bore down on the finish line they suddenly became aware of mid position male competitors, easing off the gas. As they crossed the line, Shelly was swerving hard right to miss Bushell and Amanda was actually breaking down whilst screaming something in American at Tushar Patel's rear end.
After 25 minutes of debate, adjudicators awarded Shelly Woods 1st place in a time of 5.33.4. McGrory's time was 5.33.9 with Diane Roy a little further back in 6.00.5.