Sarah Walker claims silver at BMX world champs

VICTORY: New Zealand's former world champion Sarah Walker has bounced back from injury to win the latest round of the BMX world supercross in France.
VICTORY: New Zealand's former world champion Sarah Walker has bounced back from injury to win the latest round of the BMX world supercross in France.

New Zealand rider Sarah Walker has won silver at the UCI BMX World Championship in South Africa today.

The final proved a battle of the world champions as the 2008 winner Shanaze Reade (GBR) edged out Walker, the 2009 champio,n in a superb battle on the big supercross track at Pietermaritzburg.

A double medal haul for the New Zealand team looked likely with inform Marc Willers jumping strongly out of the gate in the final, only to be brought down by Australian Sam Willougby coming out of the first corner.

The Cambridge rider got back on to finish sixth, his best ever finish at the world championships, but disappointing for Willers who has ridden superbly throughout the arduous day with riders completing seven races on the super-sized track.

It was the first time that the world championships have been ridden on a bigger supercross track, with the monster circuit also the longest at over 400m to test riders both in skill and endurance.

"Overall I am pleased with today," Walker said. "We came here to find they had made the track a lot longer than in their plan and therefore I hadn't really prepared for that. It made for a really long and tiring day.

"I did not really ride that well in the qualifying but got better as the day went and gave the final everything I had.

"While I was not quite good enough on the day, it's still pretty encouraging," she said of her fourth podium placing in as many years.

"Now I have to rest and recover. Tomorrow is the final time that elites will race in the cruiser class, so I want to go out with that title."

Walker cruised through her three motos, making strong starts before easing back with three second placings to easily qualify into the semifinal.

While she was slower to the snap in her semifinal, she showed her class to ride back into third place and turned off the after-burners on the final straight.

Walker got a superb start to the final to nestle in behind the powerful British rider, who had crashed heavily in practice in the morning. This time Reade, who also crashed out of the Beijing Olympic final, did not make any mistakes to hold off Walker as the pair distanced themselves from the field.

Willers was strong in his three motos, winning the first and then easing home with a second and third placings in an impressive run to be equal top in his group.

However he missed the snap out of the gate in his quarterfinal and was squeezed by a crash at the first corner. He was able to manoeuvre clear and recovered for third place to move to the semifinals.

He had a great gate in his semifinal side-by-side with two-time world champion Maris Strombergs and rode powerfully to finish close behind the Latvian to claim a place in his second elite grand final.

Again Willers had an excellent start, pushing alongside Strombergs and South African Sifiso Nhlapo into the first corner. Willoughby, the 2009 world junior champion, tried an impossible move and when he crashed he ended the hopes of two other riders including Willers who had looked a strong chance for a medal.

"It's mixed emotions for me really. I am happy that I have raced really strongly and that I can foot it with the best in the world," Willers said. "At the same time I am not feeling that great because I know I had a medal within my grasp. I was racing alongside Sifiso and Willoughby came from nowhere with a crazy move and left me nowhere to go. That's racing I guess.

"It was a really hard day. The track was so long and after seven races I was cramping up and certainly had nothing left.

"Now it is back to the US later this month for more racing, with a couple of World Cups to come and then focus ahead on the US Nationals."

Three New Zealanders qualified for the elite juniors in Trent Woodcock (Pukekohe), Daniel Franks (Christchurch) and Nic Fox (Gisborne) - all first year in the junior ranks.

Woodcock recovered from a crash to win his last two motos to qualify equal first, while Franks grabbed the final qualifying spot in his moto group. Fox raced solidly but missed out getting through.

Woodcock, who competes in the first ever Youth Olympics next month, was last out of the blocks in his quarterfinal and while he made a valiant recovery, he finished fifth to miss out by one spot.

Franks was squeezed in his start and also jumped strongly to recover, but like Woodcock could only manage fifth.

"Overall the juniors raced well. They are all first year juniors so have another year and they competed really favourable against the other younger riders in this class. We've got three young riders with real promise and they fared well, especially in the first year that juniors have ridden the full supercross circuit."

Walker will defend her world title in the cruiser class championship tomorrow with a large New Zealand contingent competing in the large diameter wheel size machines.


Elite Women:

Time trials: Mariana Pajon (COL) 39.853, 1; Caroline Buchanan (AUS) 39.972, 2; Shanaze Reade (GBR) 40.070, 3; Laetitia le Corguille (FRA) 40.212, 4; Sarah Walker (NZL) 40.707, 5.

Qualifying motos:  Walker 6 points, 1st equal, moto No 1.

Semifinal 1: Le Corguille 1, Alise Post (USA) 2, Walker 3, Aneta Hladikova (CZE) 4. Semifinal 2: Reade 1, Arielle Martin (USA) 2, Amelie Despeaux (FRA) 3, Rachel Bracken (Aus) 4.

Final: Reade 1, Walker 2, Post 3.

Elite Men:

Time trials: Sam Willoughby (AUS) 38.487, 1; Maris Strombergs (LAT) 38.584, 2; Joey Bradford (USA) 38.650, 3. Also: Marc Willers (NZL) 39.903, 13; Kurt James (NZL) 41.243, 47.

Qualifying motos: Willers 6 points, 1st equal, moto 7 (qualified); James 21 points, 8th, moto  6 (did not qualify).

Quarterfinal 4: Sander Bisseling (NED) 1, Jose Diaz Montana (COL) 2, Willers (NZL) 3, Ramiro Marino (ARG) 4.

Semifinal 1: Joris Daudet (FRA) 1, Willoughby 2, Khalen Young (AUS) 3, Raymon van der Biezen (NED) 4. Semifinal 2: Strombergs 1, Willers 2, Thomas Hamon (FRA) 3, Sifiso Nhlapo (RSA) 4.

Final:  Strombergs 1, Sifiso Nhlapo (RSA) 2, Joris Daudet (FRA) 3. Also: Willers 6.

Elite Junior Men:

Qualifying motos: Trent Woodcock (NZL)  7 points, 1st equal, moto 3 (Qualified); Daniel Franks (NZL) 10 points, 4th, moto 5 (Qualified); Nic Fox (NZL) 13 points, 8th, moto 4 (did not qualify).

Quarterfinal 2: Matthew Dunsworth (AUS) 1, Lorin Martinex (FRA) 2, Dennis Teullet (FRA) 3, Mattia Furlan (ITA) 4, Woodcock 5.

Quarterfinal 3: Corben Sharrah (USA) 1, Hugo Osteti (BRA) 2, Niclas Laustsen (DEN) 3, Leandro Dalfarra (BRA) 4, Franks 5.

Final: Sylvain Andre (FRA) 1, Kristers Lejins (LAT) 2, Twan van Gendt (NED) 3.

Junior women final: Merle Van Benthem (NED) 1, Brooke Crain (USA) 2, Melinda McLeod (AUS) 3.