Saya Sakakibara has taken the overall lead in the UCI BMX Racing World Cup standings after posting her second win of the 2023 season in France.
After Round 5 on Saturday was cancelled due to extreme wind conditions, riders were greeted with much finer weather at the Sarrians track for Round 6 on Sunday.
In her first competitive outing since finishing fourth at the World Championships in Glasgow, Sakakibara looked dominant on her way to the final, winning each of her preliminary races and taking gate two for the decider.
Critically, the Southlake-Illawarra rider put together a strong start on the tight track, leading the field into the first turn, and from there it essentially became a two-horse race against 2023 European Champion Zoe Claessens of Switzerland.
In a show of power and precision, Sakakibara was able to hold the advantage heading into each turn, positioning herself for the better racing line and making it difficult to be overtaken.
Despite Claessens’ best efforts, Sakakibara held on to win by two lengths, posting the fastest Elite Women’s time for the weekend with 33.890 seconds. The Netherlands Merel Smulders took the remaining place on the podium in third.
In a post-race interview, Sakakibara emphasised how important a strong start is at Sarrians.
“This first straight is so short that [a good start] is absolutely key, and I knew that the inside was going to be the biggest advantage. And I was quite confident on my hill and my start, so I knew that if I can get a good start, come across, protect that inside line, that I had a really, really good chance.
“In the semi-final my legs were burning and almost cramping, and I was really worried that Zoe’s really good on this track, so I was really worried that she was going to catch me. I just laid everything out there today, and yeah it feels really good.”
The 24-year-old also revealed how training at the track with her partner and current world champion Romain Mahieu had contributed to the win.
“I think that this track isn't, like it's not a big track. There are a lot of small jumps, and it is really important to be precise and making sure we get the down ramps well, and I think that because I spend six months here, it's so special that I can win on this track.
“I loved the energy from the French crowd. Honestly, the way you guys just roared for [French rider Axelle Etienne], I gained some of that energy as well, and yeah, such a such a pleasure, so awesome to win here.”
After her win at Papendal in June, Sakakibara moves into first in the World Cup standings on 1845 points ahead of Great Britain’s Bethany Shriever (1738 points) and Alise Willoughby of the USA (1566 points).
Lauren Reynolds was in contention in her Elite Women’s quarter final but became caught up in traffic on the third turn to finish fifth, while Matt Krasevskis was the best performing Aussie in the Elite Men, finishing sixth in his 1/8 final.
Jesse Asmus was unlucky to miss out on the Under 23 Men’s final. After starting from gate seven, the Queenslander was well back in the early stages of his semi-final, but a blistering third straight rocketed him back into contention on the final corner, only to fall short of a place in the decider with a fifth-place finish.
The UCI BMX Racing World Cup season concludes next month in Argentina, with rounds 7 through 10 taking place over two weekends at Santiago Del Estero.