This year the discipline’s UCI World Cup featured four double-header weekends - separate rounds on both Saturday and Sunday –, new venues and a separate Under-23 category (for men and women) for the first time.
Racing concluded this past weekend in Sakarya (Turkey), which hosted the final four rounds (23, 24, 30 and 31 October) and where the overall winners were crowned. The winners were those who have been most consistent over the season, which kicked off on 8 and 9 May in Verona (Italy).
There was a lot at stake at these opening rounds which were a last chance for nations to gain Olympic qualification points and for athletes to impress their national selectors. At the same time, it was the start of the 2021 UCI World Cup season which would count towards the overall title. Switzerland's Simon Marquart, a trainee at the UCI World Cycling Centre in Aigle, took first and second in the two Men Elite finals in Verona, setting the tone for the rest of the season. In the Women Elite racing the first two wins went to the Dutch: Judy Baauw and Laura Smulders.
Bogotá: double victories all round
Rounds 3 and 4 were held in Bogotá, Colombia. The country has produced strong BMX talent, not least the Queen of BMX, Mariana Pajón. She didn't disappoint in front of her own crowd, winning both rounds to add 300 points to her score in just one weekend.
Frenchman Joris Daudet did the same in Men Elite racing. In fact, the weekend also produced double winners in the U23 classes with Asuma Nakai (JPN) winning the U23 Men and Thalya Burford (SUI) winning the U23 Women category.
Deciders in Turkey
Fast forward six months and the BMX race community travelled to Sakarya, Turkey, for the final four UCI BMX Supercross World Cup rounds over two weekends. In short, a maximum of 600 points was available for riders who could win four races, so anything seemed possible going into the final stop at the new location in Turkey.
New facilities always bring new excitement. The cycling compound in Sakarya, which also includes a mountain bike trail and asphalt velodrome, is impressive. To boot, there was no home advantage for anyone.
Round 5 was a sunny one; Round 6 was wet. It mixed things up in the standings, especially in the Men Elite class where the red leader plate got passed around a few times. Coming into round one Arthur Pilard (FRA) arrived with the red plate, then Simon Marquart (SUI) took over the next day before Carlos Ramírez (COL) claimed it after round 6.
With two rounds left to race, only 15 points separated the top two athletes in the Women Elite standings: Natalia Afremova (RUS), on 570, was giving Mariana Pajón (585), no chance to relax. They were followed in the standings by Payton Ridenour (USA), Laura Smulders (winner of round six) and Felicia Stancil (USA).
After a week of analysis and preparation, the moment of truth arrived: the final two rounds that would decide the winners of the 2021 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup.
Mariana Pajón was now feeling the heat of Laura Smulders who, with victory in the 7th and penultimate round, was getting closer and closer in points with one race to go. If Laura won again, Mariana had to finish in the top seven to keep the overall lead. Both women made it to the final, with Laura taking a third consecutive victory (her 23rd win in a UCI World Cup). However, Mariana crossed the finish line in... 3rd. The overall title was hers. With one win and three second places in Turkey, Felicia Stancil rounded out the overall podium.
Although Women Under-23 rider Thalya Burford (SUI) did not win any of the UCI World Cup rounds in Sakarya, her consistency season-long meant she became the first ever Women U23 overall winner of the UCI World BMX Supercross Cup.
Asuma Nakai (JPN) felt the pressure constantly and was relieved to win the final UCI World Cup round of the 2021 season on Sunday and the overall Men Under-23 title, an award presented by UCI BMX Consultant Norm McCann.
Marquart makes his mark
Even on the last day of racing, lots was happening in the Men Elite category. It was anyone's game but the main players for the overall title were Simon Marquart and Carlos Ramírez. In the semi-final the two collided coming down the 8m starting hill, taking Carlos to the ground while Simon transferred to the main event. It was pure disappointment for the Colombian, knowing he had just lost the overall and had to accept second place. Marquart won the last UCI BMX Supercross World Cup round of the season and confirmed his overall Men Elite title.
The battle for third overall between Vincent Pelluard (COL) and Joris Daudet was won by the Frenchman, who finished third in the final round.