New Zealand BMX star Sarah Walker will go into the Olympic year as the UCI Supercross World Cup champion.
The 22-year-old BikeNZ rider had to be content with sixth place in the final of the last round of the Supercross World Cup at Chula Vista, the US Olympic Training Centre.
Walker proved the most consistent rider of the year after winning the final in The Netherlands, placing third in South African final and second at the Olympic test event final in London.
"There are a lot of riders who can win a race. But it takes a special athlete to consistently perform every time they race, and Sarah definitely deserves that title," said BikeNZ coach Ken Cools.
"The first jump here at Chula Vista is the toughest in BMX. It's a 14m jump and out here in the desert it gets very windy. Sarah crashed in practice today. Most people wouldn't race but Sarah is tough and she got up and raced really well today.
"I knew the ankle was causing a bit of grief but she nailed every gate today. Unfortunately in the final she came up just a bit short in that first jump and hit really hard, popping her foot out of the pedal. She recovered well though and overall it was an excellent weekend racing and an excellent year for her."
Walker provided the silver lining on a tough weekend for BikeNZ riders with world number one ranked Marc Willers unable to race after a serious crash in practice, with Tauranga's Kurt Pickard also forced to recover from a crash today.
The challenging Chula Vista circuit provided for some spectacular crashes while its rock-hard surface was totally unforgiving.
Walker crashed in the morning practice, and accordingly raced more conservatively in the first two qualifying motos today, finishing second to Frenchwoman Magalie Pottier. The Cambridge rider pushed in the final moto, to win in the fastest lap of the day, and was equally emphatic in winning a crash-marred semifinal.
She jumped first out of the gate in the final before popping her foot out of the pedal on landing, recovering from the back of the pack to finish sixth in the final won by American Arielle Martin.
Earlier Pickard again showed plenty of promise, but was edged out in a stacked quarter-final, where he finished fifth.
Pickard, the national champion, crashed in his first of three qualifying motos to put him under serious pressure. However he answered the call to finish second behind world champion Joris Daudet (FRA) in the other two motos to progress to the elimination rounds.
He came up against Daudet, defending champion Nic Long (USA) and top Dutch rider Raymon van der Biezen in a tough quarterfinal with the young kiwi not able to nail his usual strong start. Pickard fought hard to get back to fifth place, to just miss out on his first Supercross World Cup semifinal.
"Kurt really showed plenty of speed and I thought he was a finals contender today. He drew the outside lane in a tough quarter and just got squeezed out. But he is improving at every start."
Results, women final: Arielle Martin (USA) 1, Brooke Crain (USA) 2, Mariana Pajon (COL) 3. Also: Sarah Walker (NZL) 6.
Semifinal 1: Walker 1, Crain 2, Teagan O'Keefe (RSA) 3, Melinda McLeod (AUS) 4. Semifinal 2: Arielle Martin (USA) 1, Caroline Buchanan (AUS) 2, Amanda Geving (USA) 3, Mariana Pagon (COL) 4.
Men final: Connor Fields (USA) 1, Raymon van der Biezen (NED) 2, Dave Herman (USA) 3.