With 3495 entries in the Challenge classes and 236 BMX racers in the Championship classes, the UCI BMX World Championships held in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, goes down as the biggest edition in recent times. While the weather reached record numbers in terms of heat during the preceding week, the final Championship races had to dodge rainy periods. This didn't hold back the 5000 people who came to watch the fastest BMX athletes on earth race for the number 1 plate in their categories.
With three moto wins each Laura Smulders (NED), Saya Sakakibara (AUS), and American Felicia Stancil were looking good in the beginning of the day. And with two moto victories out of the three Merel Smulders (NED), Mariana Pajón (COL), Bethany Shriever (GBR), Alise Willoughby (USA) and Manon Valentino (FRA) showed their strength early on in the race. These eight would have made a great international final but on the way there Valentino crashed out on the first turn in the semi-final, Shriever could not make up ground after a poor start and Merel Smulders dropped out by crashing in turn two that, by that point, was getting slippery because of the rain. The final spots were filled by France's Axelle Étienne and Camille Maire, and The Netherlands' Judy Baauw, who squeezed in on spot four in the semi.
When the gate dropped at the Elite Women final, it was Willoughby who grabbed the holeshot with Étienne and Laura Smulders battling for second position. Etienne managed to hold off a charging Smulders for two straights but last year’s UCI World Champion managed to pass her on the last straight – only to see Willoughby grab the gold in front of her. It was the American’s second Elite Women UCI World Championships title.
Winning all three motos is proving a point to your competitors. Connor Fields (USA) just did that but he was not the only one: Holland's Twan van Gendt showed his form, as did France’s Romain Mayet, both with three wins each. Tre Whyte (GBR) was a favourite going into this year's UCI World Championships and he proved that with his three wins just as Australia’s Anthony Dean did. But come final time it was these eight who made it in: David Graf (SUI), Dean (AUS), Whyte (GBR), Van Gendt and Niek Kimmann (both NED), along with three Frenchmen: Daudet, Jérémy Rencurel and last year’s World Champion, Sylvain André. It was the moment of truth for all finalists.
Kimmann had picked his favourite outside position but could not dominate on the first straight. It was his countryman Van Gendt who made it to the first turn in front. Graf used the inside position to slide into second place with Daudet using a ‘high-low’ move to get into the bronze spot. Turn two is where things went south for a lot of the finalists. Van Gendt stayed out of trouble and led the race by 20 metres at this point. Kimmann avoided the riders on the ground and came out in second, followed by André – and that’s the order that they stayed in until the finish: Van Gendt, Kimmann, André,
In the Junior Women final, New Zealand's Jessie Smith passed Argentina's Aqustina Cavalli on the final straight to grab the title. Switzerland's Zoe Claessens finished third just 0.936 seconds behind to take the bronze medal. With the grandstands on their feet the Junior Men final got underway. A pile-up in the first turn was avoided by France's Tatyan Lui Hin Tsan who had looked strong all day and rode to first place, just as he had done most of Saturday already. Second place went to Ryan Martin (GBR) who held off Nathanael Dieuaide (FRA) for third.
So the Rainbow jerseys are decided for 2019! Next year the UCI BMX World Championships will be held in Houston, Texas, and the official flag was transferred to the Houston delegation in Heusden-Zolder.