Just as this article was being written the news arrived that 2019 UCI BMX Elite Men World Champion Twan van Gendt is out with injury. During a gym session a bone dislocated in his hand, sending Twan to the sidelines for the coming 8 to 12 weeks. Like many other Elite athletes, the Dutchman was already Down Under, preparing for the first four UCI BMX Supercross World Cup races – but the reigning UCI World Champion will now attend them as a spectator.
It is crunch time for collecting Olympic qualifying points. That’s one important reason why all the top riders who can race will be expected to give it their all when they gather for the first two UCI World Cup rounds at the Greater Shepparton BMX track in Australia on the weekend of 1-2 February 2020. It’s been more than 10 years since the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup came to Australia, and its return is getting the BMX fans Down Under excited to see the world’s best riders race.
While the Australians have had to travel long distances to race at the UCI World Cups for over a decade, it’s now up to the rest of the world to deal with the tiring trip. But most are excited about a new venue on the calendar and the fact that it’s summer in Australia only helps. Both Shepparton and Bathurst (the venue of World Cup Rounds 3 and 4 over the weekend of 8-9 February) have stayed clear of the ongoing bush fires meaning it’s business as usual as far as the racing is concerned.
The Australians have a strong force heading towards the upcoming races. In the Elite Men class, big things can be expected from Anthony Dean. He used the short break from racing over the winter to fully prepare for the 2020 season. With the support from the Australian crowd and the collective eyes set on Nation Rank #5 in the Olympic qualifying ranking (which would give them two Olympic spots rather than the one they currently have as 6th ranked nation), there is no lack of motivation in Dean’s corner. The highest ranked rider for Australia in the Elite Men class, Kai Sakakibara, is sitting in 9th in the UCI BMX Ranking and has had solid months of preparation for the weekend of 1-2 February.
In the Elite Women category, we will see the return of Caroline Buchanan. The former UCI World Champion was sidelined for what seems the longest time but #68 will line up to see where she sits among the world’s best. Don’t be surprised to see her racing up front with the best of them and sliding into Australia’s Elite Women top three to score Olympic ranking points. Saya Sakakibara will also be up there and we’re expecting a hungry Lauren Reynolds to make the Australian UCI World Cups a success for the host nation.
By the time the races start, the Netherlands’ Elite BMX athletes will be used to the time difference. For weeks they’ve been enjoying the different BMX tracks Down Under, training in the sun. Even without the presence of Van Gendt the Dutch have many fast riders entering the UCI World Cups such as 2019 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup winner Niek Kimmann, Dave van der Burg and Joris Harmsen, who all sit in the top 15 of the UCI individual ranking. The Smulders sisters (Merel and 2019 UCI World Cup champion Laura) are accompanied by a strong Judy Baauw to defend their nation’s lead.
Many riders could win in Shepparton. France is happy to have Joris Daudet back on the track and Sylvain André is always ready for action, hunting a podium spot, as is Jérémy Rencurel. All top guys are ready to prove a point Down Under. Ecuador’s Alfredo Campo had a strong 2019 season and is looking to keep that momentum going. And 2020 must be the year that Switzerland’s David Graf will win a World Cup race… after participating in over 40 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup races and coming close so many times, that win could just happen at the first rounds of the year. Team USA is all behind Corben Sharrah who will represent the stars and stripes in full force, aiming for another podium spot.
Looking at the Elite Women favorites there is no way we can rule out the Americans. 2019 UCI World Champion Alise Willoughby does not like to finish in any position other than first place, especially not when she is showing off her rainbow jersey. Her compatriot Felicia Stancil, Denmark’s Simone Tetsche Christensen and Russia’s Natalia Afremova are familiar faces on the podium and we would be remiss not to mention double Olympic gold medalist Mariana Pajón: the Colombian knows that 2020 is the year for her to shine.