Double podium for Sakakibara in France

PODIUM: Helensburgh's Saya Sakakibara (right) claimed silver in round two of the UCI BMX World Cup in France on Monday. Picture: Instagram

PODIUM: Helensburgh's Saya Sakakibara (right) claimed silver in round two of the UCI BMX World Cup in France on Monday. Picture: Instagram

HELENSBURGH BMX star Saya Sakakibara made it two podium finishes in as many days in claiming silver in round two of UCI BMX Supercross World Cup in France on Monday. 

It came a day after riding to bronze in round one behind Dutch Olympic bronze medalist Laura Smulders and Russia’s Natalia Afremova.

Smulders again claimed gold with Sakakibara pushing the reigning two-time World Cup champion all the way to the line to grab silver.

Belgium’s Elke Vanhoof was third across the line to round out the medals.

“I am feeling very excited and so tired,” Sakakibara said post-race.

“I’ve had two big weekends of racing. But also two podiums from two World Cups and that’s great, it’s very awesome.

“My start in the final today was a good one, and I was able to come from lane three to the inside of the track into third spot, then grabbed second at the first corner. 

“I was catching Laura down the last straight and thought I might try for that first place spot, but I was a bit short. I am extremely happy with that silver medal place.”

It showed a quick improvement from the bronze she claimed in round one on Sunday, where she finished behind Smulders and Russia’s Natalia Afremova.

“I had a lot of confidence and now I know where I am at on the world stage,” Sakakibara said.

“I felt calm on the gate for each race, and I didn’t put pressure on myself. I enjoyed it, raced clean and it got me all the way to the final.

“I have gated next to Laura a few times, and knew she had a strong start. I learnt that last weekend.

“In the final I took lane two and the plan was to follow her down the start hill and first straight, aiming for a pass during the race.

“But Natalia had a better gate than me, and I was knocked back into third place.

“I was really happy with my start in the final compared to some of my others during the day though.

“I learned that I am definitely right up there with the best in the world, which is a really good feeling.”

The 19-year-old can now boast three podium finishes from four World Cup events having won silver while still and elite-junior competitor in South Carolina, USA in late 2016.

It also continues a dream start to the European season after winning gold in round two UEC BMX European Cup in Verona, Italy last weekend.

On the men’s side of the ledger, Saya’s older brother Kai Sakakibara was the best ranked of the Aussies.

He missed a spot in the semi-finals with a fifth-placed finish in his quarter-final, missing the all-important top four by less than a tenth of a second.

It was a solid bounce back from Sakakibara who was also the highest placed Australian men’s rider in round one having made it to the 1/8th round.

His day ended prematurely after he got tangled up with another rider at the second to last turn, costing him a spot in the quarter finals. Heusden-Zolder, Belgium will host the next World Cup rounds on April 12-13.