Led by national champions Saya Sakakibara and Bodi Turner, Australian riders have claimed four of the five continental titles on offer at the Oceania BMX Racing Championships in New Zealand on Sunday.
The championships carried important ranking points for the upcoming World Championships in Glasgow, motivating the strong Australian contingent to perform at their best. It showed, with Aussie riders dominating the podiums.
The Rotorua BMX track featured many aggressive jumps, and windy conditions threatened to add a layer of difficulty to the racing. However, the weather held to set the scene for a great day of racing.
Several late withdrawals meant only eight riders competed for the elite men’s championship. Bodi Turner proved a class above, putting together an almost perfect day of high-intensity racing.
“We lucked out with the weather. The sun and the wind, everything was perfect,” Turner said.
“(There was) a little bit of a strategy change before racing, having only eight riders show up. So, I just had to get ready, go hard the first moto and put in a good first lap, and then I just kept telling myself, ‘just repeat that, repeat that,’ all day.”
The Australian champion was nonetheless pushed hard by Max Cairns who finished second in every moto behind Turner, while Aston Wypych-Coles completed a clean sweep for Australia with the bronze medal.
Fellow national champion Saya Sakakibara showed full confidence in her first race on a full-sized start ramp since suffering a concussion last June. In the elite women’s final, Sakakibara jumped out to a commanding lead and held off Megan Williams (NZ) and Erin Lockwood to win by almost a second.
Sakikibara said it felt good to know she can get into the racing zone again on 8-metre ramps. She is now looking forward to the upcoming international season.
“This week was just a kind of like a practice into Tulsa [for the USA BMX Pro Series] in two weeks’ time, and then three weeks after that it's going to be the World Cup, so I think this weekend was pretty successful,” Sakakibara said.
“It definitely wasn't easy. The wind was playing with my mind all day, but I think I managed it really well. I was really proud of the way I dealt with it and made sure that it didn't affect my performance.”
In the under-23 men’s final, Matty Tidswell led through the first two corners, but Australian champion Jesse Asmus made his move on the final turn and set up a winning sprint to the finish. The Queenslander said the track layout suited his riding style.
“Yes, it's technical. It's my kind of track. I kind of like tracks that are: you're on the gate and you've got to worry about the track, not just worry about getting down the hill,” Asmus said.
“I think that played to my advantage today, and I was able to get around the track solid (sic) and make it happen.”
Australia’s Noah Elton held off a fast-finishing Jack Greenough (NZ) to claim the junior men’s title by just 0.028 seconds. Elton said the day went just as he had hoped, despite having some uncertainty about his starting position.
“I was taking second doubts of where to go on the gate, but I went where I trust (sic) and got it done from lane five, led the lap and got it to the finish, and I was pretty proud of that,” Elton said.
In the junior women’s championship, Taya Rufus held a strong lead through the first three corners, only to be run down over the last 50m by New Zealand’s Leila Walker, who pipped Rufus into the silver medal spot by just 0.015 seconds.
Many of Australia’s top riders will now make the journey to Perth for the AusCycling BMX Racing National Series this weekend, while others turn their attention to the UCI World Cup beginning in June.
Race results available here.
Live stream available here.