It’s been a day of mixed emotions for the ARA Australian Cycling Team at the UCI BMX Racing World Championships in Glasgow, with the elation of a silver medal contrasted against the sharp pain of how tough the sport can be.
Under cloudy but dry conditions, Australia began the day optimistically, with nine riders involved in the quarter finals, five of whom made their way through to the final.
Sienna Pal and why you never give up in BMX Racing
Sienna Pal won the silver medal after a sublime ride in the Women Junior final. Coming from lane 8, Pal put in a fantastic start and first straight, emerging from the first corner clear in second place.
Despite battling hard the rest of the way, she couldn’t make up ground on Latvian rider and eventual winner Veronika Monika Sturiska, with USA’s Ava Corley in third.
At one stage, Australia looked like it might have two riders on the podium, as Teya Rufus swept into third place on the last corner. However, Rufus ran high coming out of the turn and couldn’t hold onto her position, with Corley running her down on the final straight.
The silver medal capped off a remarkable day for Pal, who in some respects was lucky to make the gold medal race. In the quarter final, Pal crashed and become entangled with Great Britain’s Sienna Harvey. Pal managed to recover and claim the fourth and final qualifying place.
Speaking to AusCycling after the win, Pal described how she was forced to quickly put the incident behind her and focus on her racing.
“It was pretty hectic. I wasn't too hurt, like mentally I was okay. And I think just my knee was a little bit shot, so I had to strap that up and go straight into the semi. So, there was not really any time to recover. But mentally I was more than hungry, so it all worked out,” Pal said.
The Central Coast rider explained how she gave her all in the final.
“I just felt the hunger in me and was comfortable in lane 8, so I just went with that and it all just opened for me. I was chasing for that gold, but it wasn't enough, and the [Latvian rider] was just that little bit faster.
“So, two, I'm pretty happy with. It’s phenomenal, so I'm really, really stoked.”
Pal was full of praise for her support network.
“I can't thank anyone enough. First, just my family. I was FaceTiming them all the time today. My mum's a huge help, and my coach Luke Madill is with me every week, in and out, just training towards the goal and getting me better. There's a lot of support behind me and everyone back at home in Australia, so supportive.”
In the Junior Men event, Josh Jolly just missed out on the final by half a bike length in his semi. Argentina’s Thomas Maturano took the title ahead of countryman Federico Capello and Italy’s Tommaso Frizzarin.
Slow start sinks Australian hopes in Women Elite
After winning both her quarter- and semi-final, Saya Sakakibara took strong form and second lane choice into the Women Elite decider. Lauren Reynolds, meanwhile, used her 13 years of world championship experience to full effect through the preliminary rounds, also doing enough to qualify for the gold medal race.
However, both missed the start when the gate dropped, and despite riding clear of a crash on the first straight, the pair found themselves behind the pack coming out of turn one. It left too much ground to make up on the leaders. Sakakibara finished fourth, Reynolds sixth.
“I think that right now I'm just really devastated. Not because of the result, but more so, I just felt like I lost to myself. It's always a battle against myself, against those thoughts of, ‘you’re not good enough,’ or everything that would steer me away from doing my process,” Sakakibara said.
“I felt pretty calm at the top of the start hill, and I knew that I had a pretty good chance to win, and I didn't feel like crazy nervous. But yeah, maybe I did have those little doubts in my head, and I didn't fully commit. And that's all it takes to kind of miss the start and miss the chance to be on the podium.”
Despite her disappointment, Sakakibara was able to take the positives out of her first World Championship participation since 2019.
“There's a lot of wins. This is my best result at an elite world championship, and the last two times I’ve crashed … I did some great laps out there, and where I did commit and when I did do my process, I put down my best performance, so they’re the wins that I'll be taking away.”
For Reynolds, slipping to sixth place was tinged with regret, having felt in contention throughout the race.
“It's the world championships. It's the toughest race of the year. Everything and anything really can happen,” the West Australian said.
“Overall, it was a good day. I was in the mix every lap. [In the final] I was in fourth the whole way, and I just left the door open on the last corner, and so that's a bummer. That's probably the bit that'll hurt the most. But overall, we're healthy and move onto the next one.”
On the podium, Bethany Schiever (GBR) reclaimed the world championship title she held in 2021, ahead of Laura Smulders (NED) and Alise Willoughby (USA).
Sakakibara did find joy later in the day however, with her partner, French rider Romain Mahieu, winning the Men Elite title. It was a clean sweep for France as Arthur Pillard and Joris Daudet took second and third.
Four-hundredths of a second separate Jesse Asmus from bronze
Australia was also unlucky to not add to its medal tally in the Men Under 23. In the final, Jesse Asmus emerged from the first corner in second place only to lose momentum on the next straight. The Queenslander then fell into a battle for third, ultimately crossing the line in fourth behind New Zealand’s Rico Bearman.
Swiss rider Filib Steiner took out the gold with Mateo Colsenet (FRA) in second place.
France also took gold in the Women Under 23, with Tessa Martinez leading Emily Hutt (GBR) and Megan Williams (NZ) over the line.
Men Under 23
Photos: Alex Broadway/SWPix.com