Tokyo 2020 hopeful Saya Sakakibara is hoping to jumpstart her Olympic qualification campaign when she, and eight fellow Australians, take on the world’s best in rounds five and six of the 2019 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup at Saint-Quentin-En-Yvelines in the north of France this weekend.
The runner-up on the 2018 world cup standings, Helensburgh’s Sakakibara will be chasing podium finish after narrowly missing out in the previous rounds of this year’s series in Manchester (rounds 1 & 2) and Papendal (rounds 3 & 4).
The current world number five has fond memories of her visit to the Saint-Quentin-En-Yvelines track during last season’s world cup, where she claimed a third place on day one and a second on day two.
“I’ve got nothing but good memories from last year,” Sakakibara explained.
“Being my first world cup event after I entered the elite category, I had no expectations and just went there looking to do my best no matter what happened. It kind of put me in a mindset where I was just fearless and was able to be open to whatever happens.
“My gates were really good, and I somehow popped out in a top three position every time. My track speed was good, and I managed to keep that position. I love that track. They’ve made a few changes since then, but I still love it now which is really cool.
“Two podiums last year was really amazing, and Iooking back on it, I didn’t really understand the significance of them. Especially when you compare with how tough the competition has been this year.
“If I keep doing what I do and stay on my bike, just doing the best I can, I hope I can at least make the final and make the podium position this time.”
Sakakibara said strong results for her and Australia as a country were important for Olympic qualification, where individual performances over the next 12 months will dictate how many berths Australian riders will have in the Japanese capital next year.
“It’s awesome we have a few girls from Australia here. Erin (Lockwood) got good results in Papendal and its great she’s decided to stay for this weekend. Especially with getting Olympics points for the country and bumping our nation up the rankings,” she said.
Adding to the confidence was Sakakibara’s success at the seventh and eighth rounds of the UEC BMX European Cup two weeks ago, where the 20-year-old picked up a first place in round seven and grabbed a third the following day.
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Joining Saya as part of the Aussie contingent is her older brother Kai, who also found a podium place in the European Cup to add to the strong results he has been consistently recording, and Saya has been his biggest supporter trackside.
“The men’s world cup this year has been crazy,” Saya continued.
“Everyone who makes the semis can win and it’s not always the fastest people who get in the final. It just comes down to the most consistent person and Kai has been working on that.
“I’ve been so happy to see him performing so well. Just to see something he’s been working on and seeing him riding to his full potential is so exciting. Being able to share those moments like our podiums at the European Cup, I think is ten times more special than if only one of us does. I’m really grateful for everything he does for me.”
Saya and Kai won’t be the only Aussie riders competing this weekend. Helping to fly the Aussie flag are Rio Olympians Anthony Dean and Lauren Reynolds, the newly crowned 2019 elite women’s national champion Leanna Curtis, 2018 national champion Erin Lockwood, Adam Carey and Shane Rosa.
Rounding out the Aussie team is Andrew Hughes who has returned to the bike after his fall in the Pro Spectacular at the national championships in Shepparton.
Action commences with round five on Sunday morning (June 9) at 12:15am AEST with the main event expected to start at 2:30am.
Round six will commence a little earlier than its predecessor at 10:15pm on Sunday evening with the main event expected to start at 12:30am.