Karen+DarkeParalympic cyclist Karen Darke will perform a time trial to mark the opening of Scotland’s first dedicated cycling facility for people with physical and learning disabilities. 

Karen, who won the Silver Medal in the women’s road time trial in the London 2012 Paralympic Games, will officially open the Highland Cycle Ability Centre today at Cantray, near Cawdor, where she will perform a time trial that will set a benchmark for other disabled cyclists.

The group behind the new track, Highland based charity The Watermill Foundation, hope the new facility will encourage more young disabled people to take up sport in Scotland in the wake of Team GB’s success in the 2012 London Paralympics, and in the run up to the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Built at a cost of £250,000, the 1K cycle track uses time trial technology to calculate cyclists’ speeds accurately, and allows disabled cyclists to test their skills in a safe, but challenging off-road environment.

The centre offers a variety of specialist cycle models to meet the different needs of its users, including tricycles for added stability, and tandems for visually impaired cyclists.

The new facility is open to disabled cycling clubs from across Scotland. Local schools, community groups and able bodied cycling clubs will also be able to use the new track, by appointment. In time, the charity plans to create a multi-purpose facility that is also open to runners and will include a pump track. *

Joanna McGregor, Chairwoman of The Watermill Foundation, said: “We are absolutely delighted that Karen Darke, one of the great ambassadors for disabled cycling, has joined us for the opening of this new centre, a first for Scotland. Karen has enjoyed huge sporting success as a Paralympic cyclist and we hope that her support will encourage young disabled people across Scotland to take an interest in cycling.

“This is an enormously exciting time for disabled sport in Scotland. The success of Team GB in the 2012 Paralympic Games was a huge inspiration for those of us who work closely with disabled people. We hope this new facility will allow us to build on this success and inspire others to pursue their sporting ambitions, particularly as we approach the Commonwealth Games.”

Sport Minister Shona Robison said: “This is a tremendous facility that will make it much easier for disabled people to get involved in cycling and will raise the profile of para cycling ahead of the events at next year’s Commonwealth Games. Backed by sportscotland funding, this is a first for Scotland and testament to The Watermill Foundation’s vision and hard work.”

Karen Darke said: “I’m looking forward to seeing and riding on the new track. It provides a unique facility for the area and will hopefully encourage many more people, with and without disabilities, to get on their bikes and challenge themselves.”

The centre was built by Inverness based civil engineers DFL, with funding support from a variety of donors, including the Highland LEADER Programme, The Robertson Trust, sportscotland, Sported, The Highland Council Ward Discretionary Fund and a number of other Lottery and community funding sources.

Louise Martin CBE, Chair of sportscotland, said: “This is a fabulous new facility which will help to accelerate the development of disabled cycling in Scotland, and I am delighted to see it officially opened today.

“sportscotland’s investment of £48,510 has helped create a fantastic cycling facility which will play a crucial part in capitalising on the excitement currently surrounding the sport.

“It is vital that we maximise the opportunities for people to become involved in sport and this investment shows our commitment to help develop and support a world-class sporting system at all levels, which will inspire future generations to be the best they can be.”

Andy McCann, Chair of Highland LEADER Programme said: “This is an exciting new project which fits well with LEADER’s aims of promoting innovative rural community development. It has delivered a unique facility for the Highlands and we particularly commended the wide range of support the project demonstrated. It will provide valuable new opportunities for people with a disability to participate in cycling activities. Highland LEADER was pleased to support this venture and wishes it every success”.

* A pump track is a dirt track set up with bumps, jumps and berms designed to allow the cyclist to ride the course continuously without peddling, using only weight shifts and gravity to propel them forward.

For more information about the Highland Cycle Ability Centre, go to www.highlandcycleability.co.uk