Australian teenager Saya Sakakibara is celebrating after claiming the win in the final UCI BMX Supercross World Cup, which also secured second overall for the Wollongong cyclist on the year-end international rankings.
“I am so over the moon,” said Sakakibara, 19. “I am so incredibly grateful for my support, and for the Australian Cycling Team for supporting me all the way and giving me the opportunity to race each round this year, especially when I contested no World Cups last year."
Round 8 FInal
Santiago del Estero, Argentina, hosted the final two rounds of the season, with Sakakibara lucky to escape with just scrapes and bruises after spectacularly crashing out of the Round 7 semi-final on Saturday when a rider crashed and took her wheels from under her.
Recovering in time for Sunday’s eighth and final round, Sakakibara lead from the gate, and with former world champion Alise Willoughby (USA) and reigning world champion Laura Smulders (Netherlands) breathing down her neck, she surged to the victory with judges awarding the win to the Australian in a photo finish.
“I did not expect that (win) especially after yesterday crash, I was kind of shaken up a little bit and little fearful coming into today. However, I got a good start and an excellent first straight, and I was able to make it work all the way to the finish line.”
ROUND 7 SF CRASH
Sakakibara finished second behind world champion Laura Smulders (Netherlands) on the BMX Supercross rankings after a season that included one win and four podium appearances, in addition to claiming sixth in her first elite career World Championship final.
“My aim this year was to gain as much experience as possible, and I did exactly that. I was able to get some wins and podiums along the way, I couldn’t be happier with this season,” said Sakakibara, who will now head back to Australia to continue preparations towards Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“I am really looking forward to getting back into the offseason, gaining strength, and hopefully I will come back faster and definitely will have more confidence heading into next season.
“Every race is critical from now on in terms of Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020, and I will be aiming for the top, for the podium, all the way to the Olympics.
“I am working so hard to making sure I am going to be there.”
In the men’s finals, Rio Olympic finalist Anthony Dean took bronze in round eight.
Copyright Craig Dutton
Australia’s Saya Sakakibara claimed sixth in her first elite career World Championship final at the 2018 UCI BMX World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan.
An unfortunate incident in final saw the 18-year-old taken out by the bike of American Alise Willoughby who had crashed in front of her as the group made the second turn.
Credibly, Sakakibara got back on her bike and finished the race to take sixth place behind the all Dutch podium of Laura Smulders, Merel Smulders and Judy Baauw.
“I was coming about seventh and was able to do a really good move on the first corner and got myself into fifth but Alise (Willoughby) crashed in front of me and I ran into her bike,” Sakakibara explained.
“That ended things for me but I came away with a sixth which is pretty awesome.
“I was already happy just to be in the final. It’s all a learning experience for me so I’m stoked.”
In the men's, Anthony Dean finished ninth.
The Australian Cycling Team has arrived in Azerbaijan for the 2018 UCI BMX (Supercross) World Championships with siblings Saya and Kai Sakakibara (NSW) and 2016 Olympic Games finalist Anthony Dean (SA) confident following their European and World Cup campaigns.
For Saya Sakakibara, her maiden season in the elite ranks has netted triple podium appearances from the first six rounds 2018 World Cup Series, in addition to gold and silver at the European Cup.
“Definitely a great confidence booster coming into the World Championships,” Saya told Cycling Australia after her final training session in the Netherlands. “Heading into this season, being first year elite, I had no expectation of podiums, it was purely to learn and gain experience.
“It's humbling to think I'm up there with the best in the world already competing for spots on the podium.
“Although I may have a little more confidence, I just have to remember what mind set put me in that position in the first place and execute that exactly this weekend.”
Kai Sakakibara, Australia’s leading male rider in ninth on the UCI rankings, has enjoyed a consistent season with three top ten placings in the European Cup, and two at the most recent rounds of the World Cup in May.
“I came into season 2018 with strong expectations, but I have quickly learned it doesn’t get any easier, it is just as competitive as any other year,” said Kai, who with Saya, has based himself in Europe for much of 2018 to increase his exposure to racing.
“It has been fantastic being around this European racing environment week in week out, in the training environment everyday. Getting this experience under my belt and doing the races leading into the Championships has been invaluable,” said Kai, who finished 2017 ranked ninth.
“The fact that I have been able to maintain a high position in the rankings this season, to know I am consistently up there, definitely gives me confidence and a good chance of doing well at the Worlds as well.”
At the six and most recent World Cup in Belgium two weeks ago, Anthony Dean found the podium and is aiming for the final this weekend.
“(My) preparation has been really good leading into the World Championships, I have been down in San Diego getting lots of track time and work done, I’m excited and ready to go,” said Dean.
“Coming off the podium just three weeks ago in Belgium gave me a good push and I’m excited, confident and looking forward to the opportunity to show what I can do come finals Saturday.”
Reigning world champions Corben Sharrah (USA) and Alise Willoughby (USA), plus World Cup leaders Niek Kimmann (NED) and Laura Smulders (NED) will create a challenge the Australians in the battle for the rainbow jersey.
The 2018 UCI BMX World Championships take place from 5-9 June in Baku, Azerbaijan. For more information, visit the official Baku2018 website or watch the live stream.
Follow the Australian Cycling Team
Complete Australian Team for 2018 UCI BMX World Championships
For the third time in four 2018 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup rounds, Saya Sakakibara has found the podium with the NSW rider finished third at the fourth round of the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup Series in Papendal, the Netherlands, this morning.
Only the might of reigning world champion Alise Willoughby and hometown hero Judy Baauw was enough to stop the 19-year old who is on her debut in the elite fields.
With two bronze medals and a silver to start the 2018 World Cup series, Sakakibara sits comfortably in second place on the overall standings 450 points with ladder leader Laura Smulders only 100 points in front.
“I came in today with the same sort of mindset from yesterday and that was just to have fun,” Sakakibara said. “In the final I was able to get into second place around the track and I kind of messed up the last straight which cost me, but I am really happy I finished third, it was an awesome weekend and I’ve learnt so much.”
Australian Cycling Team's Saya Sakakibara has opened the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup season with two podium appearances at the opening round in France.
Sakakibara grabbed bronze in round one and backed it up with silver in round two in on the Saint-Quentin-En-Yvelines track.
“I am feeling very excited and so tired,” Sakakibara said post race. “I’ve had two big weekends of racing. But also two podiums from two world cups and that’s great, it’s very awesome.
“My start in the final today was a good one, and I was able to come from lane three to the inside of the track into third spot, then grabbed second at the first corner. I was catching Laura down the last straight and thought I might try for that first place spot, but I was a bit short.
“I am extremely happy with that silver medal place!”