Olympic silver medallist Sarah Walker takes a jump into the unknown at the UCI BMX World Championships in Belgium overnight (NZ time).
Walker is having her first major international contest in nine months after recovering from a serious crash in USA last year.
She is part of a seven-strong Cycling New Zealand elite team to compete in the time trials tomorrow and elimination racing on Sunday (NZ time) at a new track at Zolder, the motor race circuit formerly used for Formula 1.
US-based veteran Marc Willers and the Canterbury pair of Trent Jones and Daniel Franks will contest the elite competition with the Te Awamutu trio of Rebecca Petch, Codi Merito and Cole McOnie in the junior elite.
Walker, while pleased with her preparation, is putting no expectations on her return to top level racing.
“Most of all I am feeling really excited and confident. But the fact is I have not raced at this level for nine months so I have absolutely no idea where I am at alongside the other riders,” Walker said.
She had success in two lead-up events in Canada but she knows stepping up to the world Championship is another matter.
“I know I couldn’t have done more. My training has gone well both on and off the bike.”
Walker believes the Zolder track, requiring more technical skills, could play in her favour and she felt confident after three full days training at the circuit in her preparations.
“I guess the first thing is I staying on my bike. I need to be smart, smooth and enjoy it. I’m really excited about it.”
Willers, who won a silver medal at the world championships two years ago, is another rider to regain his enthusiasm and zest for the sport.
Coach Ryan Hollows said Willers has made significant changes to his training and will be another to enjoy the Zolder circuit.
Both Jones and Franks have gain some success in UCI qualifying events recently, with Jones finishing second behind multi world champion Sam Willoughby in a US Nationals final.
Petch may surprise in her first year in junior elite class, backed as part of Walker’s sponsored team, with McOnie and Merito also taking on the world’s best junior elites for the first time.
Hollows believes the team, beset with injuries last year, is ready to perform strongly and the aim is to make finals in Zolder as they push forward for qualification towards the Rio Olympics.
The competition begins with Time Trials for all elites with the fastest 15 men and eight women having a second run for the Super Time Trial world title.
All riders compete on Saturday with no New Zealanders among the top ranked 16 men and eight women on last year’s UCI World Rankings, who are exempt from qualifying heats.
On Sunday (NZ time) the top 48 men and 24 women after three qualifying motos will join the exempt riders for elimination rounds – 64 men into eighth finals and 32 women into quarters – with single race eliminations through to the grand final
The grand final is 5.30am NZ time Sunday with coverage live on Sky Sport 3 from 3am.