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BMX rookies shine at world championships

Rico Bearman UCI BMX Racing World Championships
Rico Bearman (centre) in action in the elite men's final at Rock Hill. PHOTO: COLE MCONIE

New Zealand elite rookies Rico Bearman and Leila Walker both emerged with top-seven results after both made grand finals at the UCI BMX Racing World Championships in US at the weekend.

Bearman, 20, finished sixth in his first world championship as an elite rider, while Walker, 19, was seventh in the elite women’s final at Rock Hill in South Carolina, with both riders bypassing the under-23 category to jump directly to elite racing.

The forecasted storms held off, although riders had to cope with a challenging first turn at the Rock Hill course that saw several riders slide out of contention.

Bearman, the 2023 under-23 world champion, was in compelling form, consistently among the fastest one-lap times, although he had to show his fighting spirit when he found himself battling from behind.

He missed the snap out of the gate in his quarterfinal to be last into the first turn but fought back brilliantly to nab the fourth and final place to qualify for the semifinals.

The Speedco professional was outstanding in his semifinal, finishing a close second to behind eventual champion Joris Daudat of France, who went on to secure his third world title.

Bearman was squeezed in the troublesome first turn in the final, again pushed to the rear of the field but he made ground to finish sixth to cap an excellent competition.

Leila Walker UCI BMX Racing World Championships
Leila Walker (in black) at the starting gate during the elite women's final. PHOTO: COLE MCONIE

Walker, who made a late start to the season recovering from injury, is yet to develop into world-class rider out of the gate, but possesses outstanding speed and racecraft around the track.

Time and again at Rock Hill, Walker was forced to ride through from the back. She was superb in her semifinal, rushing from last at the first turn to finish fourth to qualify for the final.

And again she was squeezed at the first turn in the final, but fought back to finish seventh to complete an eye-catching showing at Rock Hill.

“It is very surreal and has not sunk in yet. The racing was fast, tough but I am super-happy with my riding,” said Walker. “This definitely exceeds my expectations. I am proud to wear the fern, proud to put New Zealand back in an elite women’s final after Rebecca (Petch) went to track."

Lily Greenough UCI BMX Racing World Championships
New Zealand's Lily Greenough (left) on the junior women's podium at the UCI BMX Racing World Championships. PHOTO: COLE MCONIE

The sole New Zealand medal in the elite finals went to Cambridge teen Lily Greenough, who finished second in the junior women’s final, behind Australian Teya Rufus, after the pair earlier dominated their semifinal.

Her brother Jack Greenough had to be content with fourth in the under-23 final after he was squeezed to the back of the field on the first turn. Meanwhile, her elder brother Bennett, who had looked in outstanding form, slid out on the challenging first turn while leading his semifinal.

Earlier, multi-national champion Michael Bias found himself pushed wide and slipped off the track in an aggressive elite men’s quarterfinal after showing plenty of speed in his qualifying rounds.

Rotorua’s Megan Williams missed out by one place on qualifying for the semifinals in the elite women.

The championship brings to completion the qualifying period for the Paris Olympic Games, with Cycling New Zealand awaiting advice from the UCI on the official allocation of qualifying spots.


Elite Men: Joris Daudet (FRA) 32.735, 1; Niek Kimmann (NED) 33.300, 2; Sylvain Andre (FRA) 33.864, 3. Also: Rico Bearman (NZL) 34.924, 6

Elite Women: Alise Willoughby (USA) 32.513, 1; Zoe Claessens (SUI) 32.886, 2; Daleny Vaughn (USA).33.522, 3. Also: Leila Walker (NZL) 35.332, 7

Under-23 Men: Pedro Benalcazar Guerrero (COL) 33.117, 1; Patrick O’Brien (USA) 33.568, 2; Jason Noordam (NED) 33.674, 3. Also: Jack Greenough (NZL) 34.352, 4

Under-23 Women: Veronika Sturiska (LAT) 33.173, 1; Emily Hutt (GBR) 33.393, 2; Bella May (AUS) 33.827, 3

Junior Men: Joshua Jolly (AUS) 33.464, 1; Niels Appermont (BEL) 34.316, 2; Valentino Vallejo (ARG) 40.177, 3

Junior Women: Teya Refus (AUS) 33.271, 1; Lily Greenough (NZL) 33.830, 2; Ava Corley (USA) 34.105, 3

Caption: Lily Greenough on the podium and in action; Leila Walker and Rico Bearman in action at the UCI BMX Racing World Championships in South Carolina, USA. (Credit: Cole McOnie).


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