Saya Sakakibara of Australia and Daleny Vaughn of USA compete in the Women's Elite quarter final during the 2024 UCI BMX Racing World Cup on February 11, 2024 in Rotorua, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Australia has completed an incredible 2024 UCI BMX Racing World Cup season, winning all four categories overall.

Saya Sakakibara (Women Elite/New South Wales Institiute of Sport), Izaac Kennedy (Men Elite), Teya Rufus (Women U23) and Oliver Moran (Men U23/NSWIS) all stood atop their overall podiums after six rounds of racing.

In a show of dominance by Australia, Bella May and Jesse Asmus also featured on the final podiums after a brilliant campaign that began in February in Rotorua and Brisbane before this weekend’s conclusion in Tulsa, USA.

It’s the first time any nation has won all four categories in the same year. With the World Championships and Olympic Games beckoning, the result will give tremendous confidence to the athletes of Australia and the ARA Australian Cycling Team.

How it unfolded: Rounds 5 & 6

Despite racing undercover at the Hardesty National BMX Stadium, riders had to contend with cool and windy conditions over both days of competition.

Round 5

Women Under 23

Holding a comfortable lead coming into the weekend, Queenslander Teya Rufus all but secured the overall title on Saturday, leading the final from start to finish and recording her fourth win for the season.

Australia may have finished with more riders on the podium, had a mid-race crash not claimed both Bella May and Isabelle Schramm.

Men Under 23

Western Australia’s Jordan Callum achieved a breakthrough result in Tulsa, notching his first-ever World Cup victory.

Callum was made to earn the win after trailing New Zealand’s Tasman Wakelin down the third straight. However, a fantastic line into the final turn catapulted the Hills BMX rider into the lead and across the line in first place, while Victoria’s Josh Jolly stormed home for bronze.

“Man, it feels awesome. I got pretty close to a podium in Brisbane, so it’s pretty cool to get this one done. When I was 16, I moved to America away from my family, so this is pretty much like a home race for me now. Feels really cool,” Callum said.

“I knew that third straight was pretty tricky. There’s a lot of just single manuals through there, but all the jumps are like different, no matter where you hit them, so I knew it would be a really good place to pass, especially with how long the straight was, so I just set it up out of the second corner, and went for it.”

Women Elite

While she held a strong position coming into the weekend, Saya Sakakibara’s chances of defending her World Cup title were improved when her nearest rival Zoe Claessens decided to not compete in Tulsa.

However, Sakakibara showed no signs of complacency. Looking poised, the Southlake-Illawarra rider built a strong lead throughout the final to post a comfortable victory – her ninth of the season. Compatriot Lauren Reynolds also achieved her best result of the season, finishing sixth.

“On Tuesday, I actually had a stack on this track and it really set me back mentally a little bit. I was really hesitant on the track, didn’t want to crash again obviously, but I think as Friday came along, I did a really good training session,” Sakakibara said.

“Every race today I just kept stepping it up every time and cleaning everything up as I went, and that last one was definitely the best lap all week, and I’m really happy I was just able to pull it off when it really counted.”

Men Elite

Izaac Kennedy looked strong through the preliminary rounds, winning both his quarter and semi-final. The 23-year-old then had every chance of snatching a win in the final, rocketing out of the gate and pulling alongside Niek Kimmann on the second corner, but the Dutch rider pulled away for the win.

The result moved Kennedy into second overall in the World Cup standings, with just one round remaining on Sunday.

Round 6

Women Under 23

Teya Rufus was denied a fairytale finish to the World Cup, crashing along with with Bella May on the first corner of Sunday’s final, leaving the USA’s Mckenzie Gayheart to ride clear for the race win.

Nevertheless, Rufus could celebrate a comprehensive overall victory, winning by nearly 200 points to her nearest rival, May.

Rufus said she struggled to comprehend how successful her first season of UCI BMX Racing had been.

“Honestly, it’s just so crazy. I think I came into the World Cup season, I didn’t expect anything, I didn’t expect to win at all. I just wanted to go out and see what I could do, and coming away with four wins and even ending like this, I think it’s still on a pretty high note,” Rufus said.

“Even going into this race, I wasn’t feeling the best, so I think just to know where I’m at with the top girls in the world, I think it’s just so incredible.”

Men Under 23

After crashing on his first moto in Round 5, Oli Moran held a lead of just 37 points going into the final day of racing. However, the Manning Valley BMX rider put it together when it counted, riding a strong final to clinch his second win of the season and the overall crown by almost 100 points.

Australia owned the Round 6 podium, with Jesse Asmus (Nerang BMX) and Jordan Callum (Hills BMX) taking second and third respectively.

Moran was pleased with being able to bounce back after the disappointment of Round 5.

“I woke up this morning and my body was moving, so I was just like, ‘I’ll give it a crack,’ and just kind of had no expectations, just (wanted to) ride and have fun, and to come out with a good result, I’m pretty happy,” Moran said.

“At the finish of racing yesterday, I saw the results and I still had the lead just, so it was literally out of whoever finished in front of each other out of me and Bennett (Greenough).

“This has been on my mind, trying to get like focus on the race. To get everything sorted and just have it done is kind of refreshing. I’ve got three weeks now until Worlds, so back into it and then yeah, another race. It’s exciting.”

Women Elite

Sakakibara led the Women Elite final from start to finish to record her fourth win from six World Cup races and claim the overall title by almost 900 points.

Sakakibara was joined on the Round 6 podium by youngster Sienna Pal (Terrigal BMX), who took her first UCI World Cup medal with bronze.

Sakakibara said her focus this season had been on improving her mental preparation.

“I (was) really driven coming into the weekend, and aiming to just put down my best performance and race like I know that I can, and this week, with all the mental challenges, I feel so happy that I was able to do that, and the win is just the bonus on that,” Sakakibara said.

“It just goes to show everything I’m doing back at home is really working. I’m really rehearsing my mental process for each race weekend, and each experience like this is just evidence that I can kind of look back upon when the pressure situations come at Worlds and Games later on this year.”

Men Elite

Despite surviving a photo finish for fourth place in the quarterfinal, Izaac Kennedy looked to be in a strong position in the final with another good hill time.

After holding on through a hectic first corner where he came into contact with other riders, Kennedy just missed out on victory in a lunge at the finish line, with Niek Kimmann taking his second win for the weekend.

However, second place was enough for the overall series win, just 23 points ahead of Swiss rider Cédric Butti.

The Nerang BMX rider said with the points tally so close, he had felt the pressure of aiming for the overall win.

“It’s a pretty sweet feeling coming back from obviously a really rough year last year with an injury and it’s been a really good start this season,” said Kennedy.

“Before that main, that’s probably pressure like I’ve never felt before. I knew I had a shot. I’d seen Cédric go out in the semis, and I didn’t know what I needed to get, but I just locked in, tried to focus on my process.

“I got out really good that lap, and yeah, couldn’t quite get across but I just tried to chase Niek down. I couldn’t get him, but I came around the turn and the team had thumbs up, and I thought I got it.

“But yeah, to be an Elite Men World Cup champion, it’s a pretty unreal feeling.”

Attention in BMX Racing now turns to the 2024 UCI World Championships in Rock Hill, USA from 16-18 May.

Story courtesy of Cycling Australia

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