With just a few days to go before the UCI BMX World Championships, we asked reigning Elite Men champion Sylvain André for his thoughts on his preparations and the venue.
This is the second time in four years that the UCI BMX World Championships will be held at Belgium’s former Formula 1 circuit at Heusden-Zolder. The BMX track, which features turns named after Caroline Buchanan, Mariana Pajón and Alise Post, has had its first and second straights altered to meet the standards and expectations of the riders, across all categories. The second turn has also been made wider and the Buchanan Bend, the Pajón Peralta and the Post Corner will also be in top shape for the 3,700 BMX racers (including the Challenge categories) who have entered. The track is 380 metres long and has two different pro sections, one each on the first and second straights.
A number of top cycling events have been held at the Zolder track in recent years, including the 2002 UCI Road World Championships and the 2002 and 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships, as well as BMX competitions such as National Championships, European Cups and the 2015 UCI World Championships.
A year on from winning the Elite Men title at the 2018 UCI BMX World Championships in Baku, Sylvain André spoke about the challenge of defending his crown at Heusden-Zolder.
Was your last lap in Baku last year the best you've ever done?
“I don’t know. I didn’t really go that hard after I came out second from the first turn. I was just trying to be as smooth as possible, especially on those very last rollers and it worked out for me to grab the win.
How has it felt to race in the rainbow jersey for the past 12 months?
“Amazing. I never really feel proud of what I do or I’ve done. To me it’s just a case of achieving what I want to achieve. But wearing those colours when I was training in winter and it was cold and windy felt amazing.
Is Zolder one of your favourite BMX tracks?
“No. But neither was Baku, and it worked out well there.”
Have your preparations gone well?
“Up and down. I had a massive crash in Latvia. But I’ve put the work in and this week won’t change anything.”
Who will be your biggest rivals in Heusden-Zolder?
“The Niek, The Man, Niek Kimmann! And all the French riders and the whole top 20 of the UCI ranking.”
With the Challenge races taking place in the week, the UCI World Championship riders will have plenty of action to watch before they take their turn on the track on Friday and Saturday. Defending UCI World Champions André, Leo Garoryan (Junior Men) from France, and Laura Smulders (Elite Women) and Indy Scheepers (Junior Women) from The Netherlands have all set their sights on the biggest race of the year.
As André indicated, predicting what might happen at the UCI World Championships is no easy task. Kimmann was a fresh-faced rookie when he won an unexpected Elite Men title in Zolder in 2015. Fast forward four years and Kimmann is one of the favourites going into the race, with several UCI World Cup wins under his belt this year not to mention European and National BMX titles. Though it would be foolish to bet against him, anything can happen when that gate drops in the final. France’s Joris Daudet wants the title back, while David Graf of Switzerland is ready for success. The USA’s Corben Sharrah will also be in contention and his compatriot and reigning Olympic champion Connor Fields will also be one to watch if he hits top form. And there is no reason why Great Britain’s Kye Whyte cannot pull off a notable first.
There are no shortage of candidates in the Elite Women field either. Smulders, Colombia’s Pajón and the USA’s Alise Willoughby are among the favourites, while Simone Christensen of Denmark, Manon Valentino of France, and the Netherlands’ Judy Baauw have all won UCI BMX World Cup races this season and can be discounted.
All will be revealed in the next few days, as Heusden-Zolder crowns this year’s UCI BMX Race World Champions.