New Zealand suffered frustration at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam as Sarah Walker placed fifth in the elite women’s race and the top Kiwi men’s hopes crashed out on a dramatic final day at the UCI BMX World Championships.
On an extremely tight circuit, the finals session was characterised by a litany of spills and mishaps with the leading New Zealand riders bearing the brunt of the misfortune.
The day’s action was frankly described by New Zealand team manager and medic Mark Hollands as “carnage” and “like a war zone” as he witnessed a range of injuries from a collapsed lung to a dislocated shoulder.
“We had prepared well and I was proud of all the team,” said Hollands. “But the small track provided some very gladiatorial and combative action. It was just that and our guys were on the wrong side of that and on another day things may have gone our way.
“Sarah was the highlight for us,” he said of the stand- out New Zealand performer at the event, which attracted riders from 43 nations.
“It was a good result in a high quality final won by the Olympic champion. The elite men had looked excellent in the motos but were just unfortunate victims through no fault of their own when other riders crashed into them.”
Walker, a five-time former world medallist, was a little slow out of the start gate in the final, although the 26- year-old Cambridge-based rider managed to haul herself up to fifth.
The race win went to Mariana Pajon of Colombia, who regained the women’s elite world title she last won in 2011, from Alise Post (USA) with home rider and Walker’s good friend Laura Smulders earning bronze for the Netherlands.
Walker had earlier revealed her typical fighting qualities to battle through both the quarterfinal and semi-final in fourth place.
In her quarterfinal heat Walker was far from her fluent best, but a late pass saw her grab the final qualifying spot by a little over a 0.10s from Russia’s Natalia Suvorova.
Meanwhile in a loaded semi-final, which contained Pajon and Australia’s 2013 world champion Caroline Buchanan, Walker again kept her nerve to eliminate Buchanan by one place.
There was disappointment for the three-strong Kiwi contingent in the men’s elite race as the trio all suffered heartbreaking crashes to bring a premature end to their World Championship quest.
The 2013 world silver medallist Marc Willers had looked majestic winning two of his three races in the motos earlier in the day and many tipped the Cambridge rider for a potential medal in Rotterdam.
However, the unpredictable and precarious nature of BMX racing was amply illustrated as the 28-year- old crashed out in the eighth finals after colliding with French Rider Sylvain Andre. He sustained various cuts and abrasions and an injured a thigh in the tumble.
Kurt Pickard (Tauranga) also suffered the same fate in the eighth final. Pickard, who had topped his group with two wins in the motos earlier in the day, made a slick start from the gate but approaching the first berm he was caught in a bottleneck of riders and took a nasty fall. He suffered a damaged right wrist and right shoulder with multiple cuts and bruises.
To add to New Zealand’s woes, the third Kiwi men’s elite rider Trent Jones was treated in hospital after sustaining a collapsed lung in a serious crash in the motos.
In their absence, the men’s elite title was regained by Australia’s Sam Willoughby.
World No.6 junior Hannah Sarten (Cambridge) missed out on a place in the final after finishing sixth in her semi-final in the women’s event. Sarten, 18, had earlier finished fourth in her group to qualify, but struggled to keep pace with her rivals in the penultimate stanza.
The four-strong Kiwi contingent failed to progress beyond the quarterfinals in the men’s elite junior race.
Codi Merito (Te Awamutu) placed fifth in the eighth and final heat and did not advance. Meanwhile, Todd Barry (Te Awamutu) suffered a spectacular crash in his eighth final, cart-wheeling over the barriers in a three-man pile up to exit the competition. He was thankfully uninjured in the spill.
Liam Perry (Kapiti) did not advance from the motos after finishing fifth in his group. Caleb Martin (Christchurch) dislocated a shoulder in warm up and did not start in the motos.