Near-flawless riding over the final two rounds has secured Saya Sakakibara the overall title in the 2023 UCI BMX Racing World Cup.
Holding a lead of just over 100 points heading into the final weekend of racing, the ARA Australian Cycling Team rider needed to put together strong performances across rounds 9 and 10 in Santiago del Estero, Argentina to take the overall winner’s crown.
She did that and more, slamming the door shut on her opponents’ chances with dominant wins in both rounds.
The 24-year-old put one hand on the trophy after round 9, leading the Elite Women’s final from start to finish, while her nearest rival, Great Britain’s Bethany Schriever, finished eighth.
In the round 10 final, Sakakibara again led the field into the first corner and effectively secured the title on the second straight, exploding away from her opponents and holding on for an enormous win by almost a second ahead of Merel Smulders of the Netherlands.
In all, Sakakibara won five of the ten rounds this season, including the last three, to emphatically claim the title by more than 700 points.
The win clearly meant a lot to the Australian champion, considering she almost gave away the sport last year.
“When I was at home with my concussion last year, or this time last year, I missed out on Colombia, and yeah, I never would have thought that I would win this overall [title], have such a successful season,” Sakakibara said.
“Yeah, [it’s] so surreal just to be up on the start hill just then having won [four] already, and just to be like, ‘I can do this. I just have to do my best and I probably have a good shot of winning again.’ And yeah, such a surreal experience.”
Sakakibara revealed how those tough times helped her get to where she is today.
“This time last year, I was definitely in the lowest of the lows, definitely thought of giving up altogether. Really didn't think it was worth the risk, but I'm so happy that I brought out the courage and gave it one more red-hot go, and I think it really paid off.
“It just goes to show how important it is to go through those hard times and there's always something better on the other side where you learn so much, and I definitely learned so much this year, and yeah, I’m just so grateful for the experience.”
The Southlake-Illawarra rider thanked coaches Luke Madill and Toby Edwards, as well as her family and supporters back in Australia. She dedicated the win to her brother Kai, who suffered a career-ending injury in 2020, saying, “Having that number 77 on my back and on my plate is such an honour, and yeah this one’s for him, so thank you Kai.”
Sakakibara has now rocketed to number two in the world rankings, behind Schriever.
Elsewhere, Bodi Turner put together arguably his best performance in years to claim a World Cup podium in the Elite Men’s competition, taking third place in round 9 behind the USA’s Cameron Wood and Romain Mahieu of France.
Australia was also unlucky not to score a podium in the U23 Men’s final on Saturday, with Nerang’s Jesse Asmus in fourth.
Main Image: UCI