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Canada’s Robbi Weldon wins Paralympic gold in road cycling

Cyclist Robbi Weldon of Thunder Bay, Ont., and pilot Lyne Bessette of Knowlton, B.C., ride to a gold medal in the 21.1-kilometre mixed time trial for athletes with visual impairment on Sunday November 13, 2011 at the Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Matthew Murnaghan/Canadian Paralympic Committee/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Robbi Weldon won Paralympic gold in road cycling and Canada's wheelchair rugby team will play for gold after winning their semifinal against the U.S. on Saturday.

Weldon, of Thunder Bay, Ont., and pilot Lyne Bessette of Knowlton, Que., were first in the women's road race in a visually impaired classification. They bounced back from a disappointing fourth in the time trial earlier in the Games.

"We were very disappointed with the previous race we did," Bessette said. "We ended the Games on a good note."

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Added Weldon: "We're going to enjoy it."

Weldon has Stargardt's disease, which is a condition of macular degeneration, and has six per cent vision. Bessette, a two-time Olympic cyclist for Canada, navigates their tandem bike from the front with Weldon powering it from the back.

The Canadians covered the hilly, 80-kilometre course at Brands Hatch in a time of two hours eight minutes 26 seconds. They beat runner-up Josefa Guzman Benitez and her guide Maria Noriega by 33 seconds.

"It was on the long climb on the back, we were able to pull ahead and make an attack there with about 7K to go," Weldon said.

Weldon and Bessette had another Canadian team to work with to control the peloton. Genevieve Ouellet of Amos, Que., and pilot Emilie Roy of St-Cuthbert, Que., finished fourth.

Meanwhile, Amber Thomas of Drayton Valley, Alta., won bronze in the women's 200-metre individual medley in the S11 visually impaired classification.

Thomas, who won silver in Friday's 400 freestyle, finished in 2:59.00 behind New Zealand's Mary Fisher, who broke the world record in 2:46.91. Daniela Schulte of Germany won silver in 2:49.57.

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"I'm excited about the medal," said Thomas, 18. "I was absolutely drained in the last 50 but I just kept going and going, pushing a little harder. I was kind of feeling to the side where Daniela was, but I couldn't tell."

Thomas was seventh after the backstroke leg and sixth after butterfly then was involved in a heated battle with three other swimmers for the bronze. It was only in the last 50-metre freestyle that she broke free from the pack.

"It was the strongest race I think I could do," she said. "I had a very good first four events but I was tired coming into these final two, but still they were very successful. I took four seconds off my personal best in this race and five seconds off of last night's race."

The wheelchair rugby team will meet Australia for the gold medal on Sunday after holding off the Americans 50-49 in the semifinal.

"We're going for the gold and they're not," Canadian co-captain David Willsie said. "Does it get bigger than that? I don't know."

It was Canada's most significant win over the Americans since beating them in the Paralympic Games semifinal in 2004. That game was featured in the documentary "Murderball" which was nominated for an Academy Award the following year.

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The Canadians took control of Saturday's semifinal early by outscoring the defending champions 16-9 in the first quarter. But the U.S. chipped away at the lead and tied the game for the first time with one minute 46 seconds remaining.

Canada forced a turnover in the final minute to score the winning point.

"I'll be honest. I was nervous for a little bit in the fourth quarter as they made a run," Canadian co-captain Ian Chan said. "We have a lot of experience on this team and we've been in a lot of tight games. We were ready for any sort of momentum shifts that were going to happen."

Garett Hickling, Canada's flagbearer in the opening ceremonies, has a pair of silver and one bronze from previous Paralympics, but no gold. The 41-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., will get his chance after Saturday's emotional win.

"The guys played phenomenal. When the subs came in, they played phenomenal and it's beyond words," Hickling said. "They looked nervous and we could feel that at the start.

"They've been number one for many years and they're definitely still a strong team. Everyone wants to try to beat them. To do that is fantastic."

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