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Sakakibara leads Aussie assault on UCI BMX World Cup rounds in Rotorua

A serious injury to Bodi Turner has marred an otherwise sensational start for Australia’s riders in the 2024 UCI BMX Racing World Cup.

Saya Sakakibara and Teya Rufus won three of the eight finals across the season-opening weekend in Rotorua, New Zealand. Noah Elton, Bella May, Oli Moran and Josh Jolly also scored podium results across the ditch.

However, the Aussie results were soured on Sunday when Bodi Turner fell heavily in his quarter-final, breaking his femur. The national champion will undergo surgery today.

Anticipation now builds for the second leg of the World Cup in Brisbane next week.

Round 1: Sakikibara, Rufus off to flying start

Women Under 23

Teya Rufus stunned herself and the field in her first-ever World Cup event, winning Round 1 of the Women Under 23 competition. The Maryborough BMX rider had an ideal start from gate 3, winning the holeshot and leading her competitors in a clean run to the line.

After a difficult 2023 marred by injuries, Rufus came into the event with no expectations, and overcame a less-than-perfect Round 1 moto to qualify for the final.

“Honestly, this is absolutely insane. I can't believe it at all,” Rufus told AusCycling after the race.

“I only had two laps (for the day) … and had a pretty shocking first straight in my round 1 (moto). Had to work back to get my second place. And then had a really long break before my final, so had to really warm up properly and just sort of send it!”

Men Under 23

The Aussies made their presence felt throughout the preliminary motos, with almost half of all gates in the semi-finals and finals occupied by Australian riders.

With Oli Moran (Manning Valley BMX) and Josh Jolly (Ballarat Sebastopol CC) both riding well through their respective semi-finals, hopes were high going into the decider. But in front of their home fans, New Zealand brothers Jack and Bennett Greenough lifted when it counted to take first and second respectively, with NSW rider Noah Elton (San Remo BMX) taking bronze.

“Over the moon, this is amazing. I’m lost for words, honestly,” Elton said.

“I was just lining up for the main (final) and had no expectations really, but just let it all out, and guess that’s what we did and got on the podium.”

Men Elite

In his first race since last year’s season-ending injury, Izaac Kennedy (Nerang BMX) looked like he hadn’t lost a step. The Queenslander won his quarter-final and placed second in his semi. However, in the decider Kennedy found himself mid-pack on the first corner and was unable to find a clear line to the front, finishing in sixth.

France made it a one-two double, with world champion Romain Mahieu leading Joris Daudet over the finish line.

Women Elite

Saya Sakakibara saved the best for last on the opening day, winning Round 1 of the World Cup with a fantastic ride in the Women Elite final.

Starting from gate 3, the Southlake-Illawarra rider powered down the first straight to grab the holeshot. The gap ballooned out to four lengths on the second straight, and while Laura Smulders (NED) clawed back most of the gap, Sakakibara held on for the win.

Starting from gate 8, fellow Aussie Lauren Reynolds (Bunbury BMX) battled in traffic to finish seventh.

After a sluggish start in the early races, Sakakibara revealed to AusCycling how she lifted when it counted.

“Yeah, feeling really good. I can't wipe the smile off my face,” Sakakibara said.

“Today, I kind of started off pretty slow and I knew that I could do good, and I could win again, but then after that Round 1 (moto), I was like, ‘oh, those doubts are creeping in.’

“But it was just going back to my processes, and then trying to beat those negative thoughts in my head, and that was my mission today. Just commit everything, and I kind of got better as the day went on, and a really good lap in the final when it all counted, so yeah, really, really happy.”

Round 2 Recap: Sakakibara doubles up, disaster for Turner

Women Under 23

Aussies Bella May (Frankston BMX) and Teya Rufus both won their opening motos to secure a place directly into the finals, and hopes were again lifted when both started well in the decider.

However, they couldn’t match the early speed of Ava Corley (USA). May battled tenaciously to try and catch Corley, but the American held on for the win May less than one-tenth of a second behind. Rufus battled hard to finish in third, making her second podium for the weekend.

Men Under 23

Australia again looked in a strong position throughout the preliminary rounds, with six Aussies lining up in the semi-final and three progressing to the final.

However, as he did on Saturday, New Zealand’s Bennett Greenough denied the Australians, holding off the chasing pack to ride to victory ahead of Oli Moran and Josh Jolly, who took silver and bronze respectively.

Both riders revealed to AusCycling how they had adapted over the weekend to secure the podium results.

“Managed to ride a smart lap and finished off in second, so I feel like I had a good off-season and everything is there. Just need to fine-tune a few things and be ready for Oceanias next week in Brisbane,” Moran said.

“Changed my mindset coming into today. Got my gates a bit better, just started putting better laps in. Yesterday fifth, today third. Couple of places better, feel good, ready for next World Cup,” Jolly added.

Women Elite

On Sunday, Saya Sakakibara again was the rider to catch, comfortably winning her quarter- and semi-finals. However, in the final the 24-year-old was made to earn her back-to-back wins, edging Bethany Shriever (GBR) in a photo finish.

Sakakibara again led the field into the first corner, but Shriever fought at the back wheel of the Australian rider the rest of the way, with Sakakibara holding on to win by less than three-hundredths of a second.

Sakakibara admitted that the race could have gone either way in the final straight.

“I was super consistent around the track, but the only thing that was worrying me was the gate.

“I was being a little bit slow or a bit late, and in the final I was like, ‘well, it’s all or nothing, don't leave anything to chance,’ and I went a little bit too early and I hit the gate a little bit … but I knew that I had a really good first straight, so I just trusted that.

“Around the last corner, I literally just had zero legs, and if I got passed, then I was like, ‘well, this is just fate,’ but yeah, I was just able to hold off that little bit, and yes, so cool to finish off the weekend with a double win.”

Sakakibara has now won the last five World Cup rounds in a row. Her run extends back to Round 8 last year in Santiago del Estero. She leads the 2024 World Cup standings on 1,000 points from Schriever (800 points) and Alise Willoughby (USA) on 636 points.

Men Elite

Australian hopes suffered a massive blow in the quarter-finals when Bodi Turner clipped another rider on a first-straight jump, landing heavily and breaking his femur. For Izaac Kennedy, any chance of a final appearance was snuffed out in the semi-finals, when he unclipped on the first corner and was unable to recover, finishing eighth.

Joris Daudet (FRA) led the field from start to finish in the final to win by a comfortable margin.

UCI BMX World Cup – Standings after Round 2

Women Under 23

  1. Ava Corley (USA) – 307 points

  2. Teya Rufus (AUS) – 287

  3. Bella May (AUS) – 220

Men Under 23

  1. Bennett Greenough (NZL) – 307 points

  2. Jack Greenough (NZL) – 270

  3. Oliver Moran (AUS) – 247

Women Elite

  1. Saya Sakakibara (AUS) – 1,000 points

  2. Bethany Schriever (GBR) – 800

  3. Alise Willoughby (USA) – 636

Men Elite

  1. Joris Daudet (FRA) – 930 points

  2. Cedric Butti (SUI) – 748

  3. Romain Mahieu (FRA) – 558

Images: UCI


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