The 2022 Red Bull UCI Pump Track World Championships provided impressively fast competition at the Santa Fe Bike Park in Santiago (Chile), where new UCI World Champions were crowned: Christa Van Niederhäusern (SUI) and Niels Bensink (NED) earned their rainbow jerseys in relentless style on Saturday 19 November.
All the qualified riders competed in the first round, with fast times being laid down, from which the best 16 men and women went through to the Round of 16. Here’s how the competition played out…
Round of 16: Ridenour & Gilchrist out
In the Round of 16, the top four women were Christa van Niederhäusern, Sabina Košárková (CZE), Vinēta Petersone (LAT) and Kristina Madarásová (CZE). They were joined in the Round of 8 by defending UCI World Champion Aiko Gommers (BEL), Léa Brindjonc (FRA), Australia’s Caroline Buchanan (the former UCI BMX Racing World Champion and multiple mountain bike four-cross UCI World Champion was riding a 26in mountain bike) and Christelle Boivin (SUI). The surprise exits were Molly Simpson (CAN) and 2019 UCI World Champion Payton Ridenour (USA).
In the men’s Round of 16, the top four were Niels Bensink, Alec Bob (USA), Thibaut Dupont (FRA) and Anaia Istil (FRA). Defending UCI World Champion Eddy Clerté (FRA) was 5th with Tristan Borel (SUI), Brady Kincheloe and Amakaye Andersen (both USA) completing the quarter finals line-up. The surprise exit was 26in mountain bike rider Ryan Gilchrist (AUS).
Quarter-finals: increasing speeds
With the first runs done and after a pause for a huge spider crossing the 263m long course, the women’s top eight were cut to four: Van Niederhäusern, Petersone, Košárková, and Gommers just going through at the expense of Madarásová.
In the men’s quarter finals Clerté hit 23.048, the fastest time recorded on this track. Closest to him was Bensink: “Let’s send it,” said the Dutchman, anticipating the semi-finals. They were joined by Bob and Dupont. All four slower riders ran again but couldn’t improve.
Semi-finals: defending UCI World Champions bow out
In the women’s semi-finals, Gommers went first, looking tired with a lap time outside 26-sec. Van Niederhäusern’s first run of 25.403 beat Košárková’s 25.562, with Petersone slotting in third. Gommers hoped to do better in her second run, but the 2021 UCI World Champion’s fatigue had caught up with her. “My legs just got too tired and my body, so it was a lap full of mistakes. It is what it is,” said the18-year-old. “It’s not just about medals, it’s about having fun and this week was fun!”
In the men’s semis, Eddy Clerté’s technique of hitting the top of the berms came unstuck as he spat out of the first turn and took a hard hit. The 2021 UCI World Champion received immediate medical assistance and recorded a DNF. Alec Bob played safe, riding under the red lines, hitting a fast 23.276. Dupont couldn’t match Bensink’s time with his first run and couldn’t force his legs to run again. It set up a Bob-Bensink Big Final.
Finals: new winners emerge
In the one-run Small Final, Vinēta Petersone went first, posting 25.94. Gommers followed with 25.950, meaning the Latvian, who earned her place in the finals in the last chance qualifier, claimed the bronze medal with an advantage of less than one hundredth of a second.
In the women’s Big Final Christa Van Niederhäusern went first, posting a time of 25.586. And when 16-year-old Sabina Košárková came in with 25.743, the Swiss rider knew she had claimed her first official UCI world title.
“It’s just overwhelming, how many people are here and are happy for me that I could achieve this. It’s incredible,” said Van Niederhäusern. “It was so hard, everyone did so well. Every year it’s getting harder and that’s so cool for our sport.”
With Clerté unable to ride in the Small Final, the men’s bronze medal went to his countryman Thibaut Dupont, taking third spot for the second consecutive UCI Worlds. “The track was really good, I felt really tired,” he said. “I’m really happy for this third place.”
In the men’s Big Final Niels Bensink ran first, recording 23.171 - his fastest time of all. What would Alec Bob’s reply be? The American looked fast, he was even up at the split time, but crossed the line in 23.201 – meaning, after two consecutive fourth places, Bensink took the honours, riding a specially made 22in-wheeled bike.
“This is what I want for pump track, it’s the best thing ever. I’ve tried so hard. Finally I’ve got it done and I’m so stoked.”
The new UCI World Champion also took the opportunity to represent the pump track community in sending a message to the outgoing UCI World Champion who had crashed out in the semi-final: “We love you Eddy, you got this!”