Rotorua's Sarah Walker has made an excellent start to her Tokyo Olympic bid, finishing fifth in the grand final of the UCI BMX World Cup second round in Manchester.
After finishing ninth overall in round one on Saturday, Walker enjoyed a consistently high level of racing throughout the competition, including a victory in her quarterfinal and ultimately fifth in the final which was won by France's Valentino Manon.
It has lifted the London Olympic silver medallist into the top 10 on the UCI Supercross rankings.
"I am relieved and excited and proud of the effort over the weekend. I was especially pleased with the quarterfinal win which had such a strong field including the winner on the first day," Walker said.
"Overall, I had great gates on both days and it's really cool."
On Saturday, Walker showed good speed in qualifying and was consistently fast out of the gate, qualifying second in her moto, and then advancing to be third in her first round and fourth in the quarterfinal.
In her semifinal she was pipped by half a second for the last spot to the final, finishing ninth.
Walker says she was enjoying her biggest and most consistent training block during the New Zealand summer before a crash last month kept her off the bike.
"I was cautious coming over here and had not jumped until I got to Manchester. So I was thrilled that I felt great and I was able to handle all those nerves.
"I am excited to head to Papendal now for the next two rounds. It is outdoors and a big track but it is also one we have trained on a lot and where my TVE Sport team is based.
"The thing is I know I was going faster a month ago before the training crash so I know I will be faster."
Hamilton teenager Jessie Smith, who is mentored by Walker and is also part of the TVE Sport pro team which includes world champion Laura Smulders, enjoyed another strong World Cup debut, making the quarterfinals. She was third in qualifying but got caught up with a rider down in her path in the quarterfinal.
"Jessie has been incredible. She is still a junior woman rider and once she got the big first jump nailed, she was fantastic. I am so proud of her and she was really noticed by the other elite riders how she rides and handles her bike," Walker says.
Te Awamutu rider Rebecca Petch had to fight through the repechage process as she did on the first day of competition. While she made a good start in her quarterfinal, like Smith she was caught in a melee in front of her to finish seventh with only the top four progressing in each race.
North Harbour's Michael Bias was again the best of the Kiwi men, making it through to the round of eight while both Cole McOnie (Te Awamutu) and Maynard Peel (Sunset Coast) went out in the repechage.
Rounds three and four in the UCI BMX Supercross are in two weeks at Papendal, Netherlands.
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