‘I spent the last lap fighting back tears’: the ‘Flying Mullet’ lets it all out after Paralympic cycling race

Once again, it wasn’t Alistair Donohoe’s day. Five years after a late collision robbed him of gold in the road race at Rio, this time he found himself a victim of a rain-soaked Fuji Speedway. Not once, but twice.

Still, Donohoe got back on his bike. And he caught up to the leaders. But deep down, he knew he was in trouble.

“It’s a race of attrition and I knew that I was going to pay the price,” he told Channel Seven. “But you have to be in it to win it, and two laps to go, I started cramping. There’s nothing you can do. But how good’s racing?

“Had I been lucky it would have been a different race,” Donohoe added. “I was feeling so good. But, again, it’s just a bike race.”

It was the kind of answer Australians have come to expect from the man they call the Flying Mullet. Brutally honest, revealing his ambition, but also not taking things too seriously.

Donohoe finished fifth, dropping off from the lead pack when he was struck by cramp in the latter stages of the 94km C4-5 road race.

Donohoe knows adversity. Not just after what happened in Rio, but what brought him to Paralympic sport in the first place.

The Northern Territorian was 15 years old when severed his bicep and tricep in a freak accident. As he jumped from a tree into a creek, a rope swing wrapped around his arm.

The lead up to Tokyo, however, has been tough, too. Post-race, he revealed he had been riding for his friend, Will Georgeson, a keen cyclist who died by suicide two months ago.

“I spent the last lap fighting back tears,” Donohoe told Seven. “I’ve been holding it together up to the Games. I wanted to dedicate this one to him, and to my housemates back home. This one’s for Will. Fuck. Now it’s over, I can let it out.

“Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. You can’t control crashes. It’s a part of the sport. I love it. Today was so good. It was so hard. It was everything I love about racing. I think Will would be been so proud of this race.”

On Friday, as they went round for lap two, Donohoe had been agonisingly close to avoiding that first fall. The Ukrainian rider Yehor Dementyev went down and Donohoe had enough time to swing out his front wheel to the left. As he moved to correct it, his bike slipped from under him on the wet track.

In a cruel instance of deja vu, it had been Dementyev who took out Donohoe as he made his move for the finish line in Rio. The Ukrainian went on to take silver on Friday.

Donohoe took it all in his stride. “I felt like Steven Bradbury out there, skating on ice,” he said. “It was so random. Suddenly I was on the ground too. Get back up, get back on. Come up a hill, slip again… These wet conditions, they bring out patches of oil on the race track and you can’t predict them.”

After two Paralympics, Donohoe now has four medals to his name, including the silver he won at the Izu velodrome in the individual pursuit C5 and a bronze from the road time trial in Tokyo too.

In one sense, that result in the velodrome had been a disappointment, Donohoe said last week. But he was also delighted with silver, especially given he was on track to miss the gold medal race before he came storming home in the final lap of his heat.

He showed the same spirit on Friday, when he got back on his bike after a second fall, and even more so, when he put his head down and chased down the lead pack.

“I went soul-searching,” Donohoe said. “I dug so deep. You’ve got spend your biscuits, even if you want to leave them for later in the race. That’s something I had to deal with when there were only five of us left. I knew I had spent the most energy.”

When he started cramping, Donohoe said he had no choice but to slow down. He slipped away from the pack, and his chance at a redemptive gold slipped away, too.

“The road race still eludes me,” he said. “But it’s only three years away to Paris… I still had so much fun out there. Even just crashing and getting back on, I was like, ‘Oh, this is racing.’

“It adds a bit more fuel to fire for Paris in three years. That’s not too long, is it?”