Sakakibara Race Report - UCI World Championships – Baku, Azerbaijan
Report by Kai. Photos by Craig Dutton, Eddy Galloway
The World Championships really felt like it crept up on us this year. The Worlds had been our main focus following the conclusion of the World Cup circuit in September, and although productively spent, the time ﬂew by.
We had a solid 3 weeks after the World Cup rounds in Zolder solely to prepare for the Worlds, before packing our bags and heading to Baku, Azerbaijan.
The biggest area of focus for me leading into the Worlds was my psychology. There wasn’t a whole lot that was going to change before the race physically, but there was a lot that could be done mentally to ensure I perform at my very best on the day. After all, unlike the World Cups, the World Championships is once a year. I couldn’t aﬀord to turn up anxious or unprepared.
I travelled to Baku ﬁlled with excitement. My body was healthy, my mind was clear, and I had ridden the track previously. As the racing was scheduled to be at night time, I spent the days leading into the race staying up late chatting and playing cards with other riders. I needed to be ready to race my ﬁnal at 11.30pm.
The weather was perfect for the challenge class racing which went from Tuesday - Thursday, but strong winds started to blow on Thursday afternoon, when our practice was scheduled to start. It was probably one of the most consistently blowing cross wind that I’ve ever ridden in. I had one crash that I was lucky to escape uninjured, but other riders didn’t get so lucky. Elite Women’s practice was cancelled due to the wind!
Friday was no better - practice and our three qualiﬁcation motos were scheduled for the night, but it was decided to postpone the whole event to Sunday, where conditions were predicted to be better. There were also talks of running the racing oﬀ the challenge 5m starting hill if the weather didn’t improve. I was okay with either option - but was concerned about pushing the racing back to Saturday when there was no guarantee of the weather being better.
Luckily, it was a much calmer day on Saturday. Our riders’ representatives, Liam Phillips and Laura Smulders called for a riders’ meeting before practice commenced, where we decided which starting hill we would race oﬀ (8m or 5m), and which straights we will race on (amateur section or pro-section). The votes were unanimous. We were to race the 8m hill and pro-sections as planned.
I was feeling great. Practice went well, and I entered the motos in a positive frame of mind. None of the moto draws were easy, and being switched on from the ﬁrst race was going to be critical to get through the day smoothly. Motos went well for me - I qualiﬁed 2nd, 1st, 1st, and moved on to the 1/8 Final.
I had lane 4 for my 1/8, and nailed the start. I started to move across down the ﬁrst straight, and realised that I was ahead of 2 x World Champ Joris Daudet half way down the straight. He was inching closer though, and I just couldn’t shut the door on him. He took the inside line to push me back into 2nd around the ﬁrst corner. My lap was clean from here. Ragot Richard from France pipped me on the line, but my lap time was still very good and I qualiﬁed through to the 1/4 Final.
The 1/4 Final was where I made my error. The way the numbers worked out, we only had 5 people in the race, and I started to overthink my lane choice and decision. I consequently messed up my start slightly - hitting the gate with my front wheel on the way down, and got pushed out to the back down the ﬁrst straight. My run from here was clean, but I just couldn’t make a pass into 4th. I ﬁnished up 5th and ended my day. 3/4 of the riders ahead of me ended up making the ﬁnal.
I was massively disappointed. Obviously because I missed out on the ﬁnal and I didn’t reach the result that I was after, but mostly because it was my own personal error. The start is one thing in a BMX race that is completely in my control, but I had let my mind slip. Knowing that I was capable and should’ve been in the ﬁnal really hurt.
However it was also true that this was basically the ﬁrst Elite Worlds that I’ve walked away from angry because I was capable of more, not upset because I wasn’t good enough. My riding was great, and I really do feel as though I have what it takes to make it to the top.
Thank you so much for your continued belief and support on my journey. I will be bottling this on up and using it as motivation to improve my riding by another level.
This World Championships was exciting as it was my ﬁrst year racing in the Elite Women category. My preparation coming into this event was great. Having a total of 10 events in Europe in 2.5 months had allowed me to gain experience in the Elite ﬁeld and this World Championships environment felt somewhat familiar which helped with nerves and riding too.
I tried to come into this event with the same mindset as I had in the previous World Cups and European rounds, but it was deﬁnitely hard as I had set a high standard for myself from a early point and it was hard to not put the pressure on myself to match that. I had high hopes but I was constantly reminding myself that every event was for the experience, that the outcome is what it is, and to go out there and have fun.
Due to the weather, and the unexpected schedule changes, I was ﬁnding it diﬃcult to get myself in the mood that, this is the biggest race of the year, and this is what I trained for. I was constantly saying ‘this does not feel like a World Championships week’. But as soon as I walked into the pits on Saturday. I knew today was the real deal and it was time to put everything I’ve got out there.
I started the day on a high with 3 wins in the motos and a 2nd in the ¼ ﬁnal. From there, the racing got tighter. In the semi ﬁnal, I was nervous but conﬁdent that I could make it through. I had a slow gate but I was able to get myself back into 4th, trying to run away as I know someone is behind me doing everything they can to pass me. I did a clean lap and ﬁnished 4th. I was through to the ﬁnal!
In the ﬁnal I had a mixture of feelings. I was 6th qualiﬁer and although there were only 3 lanes to choose from, I was very indecisive and I wasn’t conﬁdent with my choice. On the start hill, I was telling myself to enjoy the moment and have fun, but I had other voices telling me to go out there and win.
I had a slow start again and I was coming 7th into the ﬁrst corner. I saw a bunch up with a few riders in front of me so I quickly took an outside line and I was able to get myself into 5th. I was determined to catch up on the 3rd straight then set up another pass down the last straight. Then the defending World Champion Alise Willoughby crashed right in front of me and I took a turn to the right to avoid her. Bad move, when her bike ﬂew right in my face and I was down on the ground. When I got up, I saw that another rider from the US, Brooke Crain took a fall further down the straight. Which meant I was able to roll through with a 6th. The support from the crowd as I rode down the last straight was incredible. Although I was disappointed with the crash, I was proud with my result. World number 6!
That concluded our two and a half months in Europe and it was ﬁnally time to go home. This trip exceeded my expectations and I was able to learn and gain experiences through various challenges I’ve never faced. This is only the beginning. I can’t wait for the rest of the year and the years following as an Elite athlete!