When the storm hit at the 2015 UCI BMX World Championships in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, it was time to improvise quickly. Racing conditions were far from optimal and the campsite was cleared due to the risk of falling trees. The race was shortened, and the 5-metre hill was used: but in the end we got to see the UCI World Champions crowned and that was the reason everyone had come. Niek Kimmann (NED) and Stefany Hernandez (VEN) grabbed the Elite titles in 2015 with Kimmann making it a back-to-back success after winning the Junior UCI World Championships in Rotterdam the previous year. It was a big moment for BMX on the track at Circuit-Zolder, which will also provide the stage for our next event.
With the Challenge classes included, the 2019 UCI World Championships will be the biggest race in BMX history. The hunt for the rainbow jersey is on. Last year’s Elite UCI World Champions Sylvain André (FRA) and Laura Smulders (NED) are hoping to repeat their victories, while Junior UCI World Champion Leo Garoyan (FRA) wants to emulate Kimmann’s feat from 2015. 2018 UCI Junior Women’s World Champion Indy Scheepers (NED) gets to race the Junior class once again and will defend her title tooth and nail.
Marc Wauters, Cycling Manager Circuit Zolder & Sportive spoke about the sport of BMX and in particular, organising the UCI BMX World Championships: “To become a BMX rider, you need dedication, focus and a sense of sacrifice. I had all that during my cycling career and I still have it now I’m sportive director/cycling manager. You need to work hard to reach the top. And the same goes when organising a top event. All the links have to work together, or the chain breaks and you lose.”
The organising team will prepare everything to produce a smooth-running event, and make some more BMX history.
With her victory in Baku, Azerbaijan, last year, defending Elite Women’s UCI World Champion Laura Smulders knows what it takes to win. She has already prepared herself for the big race in Zolder, and we caught a few words with her. She won the 2019 National BMX title and the 2019 European title so it's not hard to guess that Smulders would like to add another UCI World title to that…
Q: How badly do you want this title?
Laura Smulders: “I’m not going to lie, of course I’d really like to have that beautiful white rainbow jersey for another year! Who wouldn’t?!”
Q: How did it feel to wear the rainbow jersey all year?
LS: “Every time I put that jersey on there was a big smile on my face. Just remembering the race and that you’re world number one is a really good feeling.”
Q: With the strongest athletes in the world coming together in Heusden-Zolder, is it time for you to get nervous?
LS: “There’s definitely some nerves coming in now, the other two championships have finished, and now it’s the countdown to the Worlds.”
Q: What do you think of the track in Heusden-Zolder?
LS: “I like the track, it’s pretty technical, and you can really make a difference on the straights.”
Q: What do you prefer, rain and windy conditions like in 2015 or a sunny day to race on next week?
LS: “I’d prefer a sunny day over a rainy one, but whatever happens I’ll be ready.”
Q: Has preparation for the big one gone well?
LS: “Yes, it definitely has gone well. I’m feeling fast and really excited to race all the girls and have another shot at winning the rainbow again!”
Smulders and Sylvain André have been easily identifiable as UCI World Champions this year, with matching white racing pants, custom white helmets and bikes to match. It’s something they’d both love to extend for another year: having that big number one on the plate and on the back of the rainbow jersey feels good.
The statistics show how hard it is to win a UCI World Championships title. Only two male athletes have won more than two UCI World Championship titles: Sam Willoughby (AUS) leads the charts with four (two Junior and two Elite) and Kyle Bennet (USA) scored three Elite titles. Joris Daudet (FRA), Sylvain André and Niek Kimmann could join Bennet on three if they win the race in Belgium on 27 July 2019. In the Women’s division it is Mariana Pajón (COL) who could become the sole leader in the UCI World Championship charts by making it five in Heusden-Zolder. She currently ties for the most titles at four with Maria Gabriela Diaz (ARG) and Shanaze Reade (GBR), neither of whom will line up in Belgium.
It’s only a few more days until the 2019 UCI World Champions will pull on the distinctive rainbow jersey that will be theirs to wear until Houston 2020.