By the end of May 2020 many of the year’s major BMX races will be over, with the exception of the UCI BMX World Championships and, of course, the Olympic Games. National teams are hunting for the last qualifying points in order to make it to Tokyo 2020, and the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup provides an ideal opportunity to do just that. The first four rounds of the 10-race series are taking place in Australia during February, and the goal is to move up in the Nations Ranking by hitting projected race results. Every little detail can make a big difference, especially when the rider field is really close. A 5th place finish after Round 1 means that your day is over but being up front gets harder and harder.
The first weekend of UCI BMX Supercross World Cup racing in Shepparton, Australia, saw 11 different podium finishers – with only Alise Willoughby (USA) making it onto the podium twice. It demonstrates the depth of ability in the Elite classes in today’s BMX; seemingly anyone can win at any given moment, which makes the sport so exciting.
A total of 2800 people came to watch the racing at the Greater Shepparton BMX Supercross track. The 44 C temperatures on Saturday challenged the riders to stay cool. Finding shade was key, as were ventilators to create a breeze in the team tents. Some athletes brought ice vests and coolers to keep the drinks cold. But the conditions were the same for all the competitors and the show must go on.
Team Australia’s goal
On Saturday Willoughby and the Netherlands’ Niek Kimmann took the big wins and scored maximum points for their countries. With the first UCI BMX SX World Cup in over ten years on home soil, the Australians did well in front of the home crowd: two top-5 results in the Women’s final (Saya Sakakibara in 2nd and Lauren Reynolds in 5th) and two podium spots in the Men’s class (Anthony Dean in 2nd and Izaac Kennedy in 3rd) made for a happy Cycling Australia camp.
Team Australia has moved up to fifth in the Olympic Qualifying Nations Ranking – relegating Colombia to sixth - and will need to remain there if they want to be represented by two riders at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Few points separate the two nations, and it will be an interesting battle in the next round: Colombian Carlos Ramirez placed 2nd in Round 2 in Shepparton but Australia managed to move up the rankings thanks to Anthony Dean’s 4th place and four other Australians in the semi-final.
The European challenge
Every country has its own situation and challenges. The Netherlands are leading the Olympic Qualification Ranking for Men and Women, but none of the Dutch riders made the final of Round 2 in Shepparton. The last time that no Dutch athletes made it to the main final at a UCI BMX Supercross World Cup race in either Men or Women competitions was back in Randaberg, Norway, in 2012.
Meanwhile, with 23 athletes signed up for the race in Shepparton, the French mean business. Their athlete support programme is also setting new standards in BMX. With three top-9 results for France at Round 2 on Sunday, the points keep coming in even with Joris Daudet, one of their top riders, currently sidelined.The USA took the wins in Shepparton on Sunday when the temperatures were a lot more comfortable. Alise Willoughby doubled over the weekend and Connor Fields claimed a victory in the last race of the UCI World Cup weekend. The USA has always been up there in BMX racing and although their field isn’t the deepest these days, they have riders on the team that can win.
Now that the 2020 season is on its way, new calculations can be made. Riders can set new personal goals after the first two rounds but with UCI World Cup Rounds 3 and 4 coming up this weekend in Bathurst, Australia, there is not much time to recoup and get ready. In the end it is about the race results and every lap matters regardless of how hot it is or how hard the wind blows. The track in Bathurst is a rapid one - the finish line is lower than the base of the eight-metre start ramp - so bigger sprockets up front will be tested all week to see if that gives the athletes an advantage for faster lap times. All the off-season preparations will now be taken to the BMX track, and made to count in the chase for points.