Purpose: The para-cycling classification system, consisting of five classes (C1–C5) for bicycling (C5 athletes having least impairments), is mostly based on expert-opinion rather than scientific evidence. The aim of this study was to determine the differences in race performance between para-cycling classes.
Methods: From official results of the men’s 1 km time trials for classes C1–C5 of seven Union Cycliste Internationale World Championships and Paralympics, median race speed of the five fastest athletes in each class was calculated (n = 175). Para-cycling results were expressed as a percentage of able-bodied performance using race results from the same years (n = 35). To assess differences between consecutive classes, Kruskal-Wallis tests with Mann-Whitney U post hoc tests were performed, correcting for multiple testing (p < 0.013).
Results: Para-cyclists in C1 reached 75% (median ± interquartile range = 44.8 ± 4.2 km/h) and in C5 90% (53.5 ± 2.9 km/h) of able-bodied race speed (59.4 ± 0.9 km/h). Median race speed between consecutive classes was significantly different (χ2 = 142.6, p < 0.01), except for C4 (52.1 ± 2.8 km/h) and C5 (U = 447.0, p = 0.05).
Conclusion: Current para-cycling classification does not clearly differentiate between classes with least impairments.