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Double Dutch: Smulders, van Gendt sweep top spots at Abbotsford's BMX World Cup event
When the dust had (literally) settled at Abbotsford's Exhibition Park on Saturday afternoon, the first-ever BMX Supercross World Cup event to be held in Canada had turned into a Dutch treat.
Laura Smulders and Twan van Gendt of the Netherlands won the women's and men's races, respectively, in the final event of the World Cup season.
Both races were wars of attrition that showcased both the pulse-pounding excitement and the fragile nature of success in the sport of BMX.
In the women's final, American rider Felicia Stancil appeared headed for her first World Cup win, holding a comfortable lead heading towards the final corner. But the world junior champion crashed in the third rhythmic section, and Australia's Lauren Reynolds, who had been running second, was caught up in the wreckage.
That opened the door for Smulders, the bronze medalist at the London Olympics, to pick up her first World Cup triumph.
"I was lucky I didn't crash over," Smulders marveled afterward. "I passed her (Stancil) on the outside, and I ran into her bike."
Van Gendt made it a Dutch double, winning a men's final which was similarly crash-marred.
Local favourite Tory Nyhaug of Coquitlam was the leader out of the gates, but he – along with World Cup points leader Connor Fields of the U.S. – saw his hopes of victory evaporate in a massive five-rider pileup.
Van Gendt stayed vertical and fended off Australia's Sam Willoughby for the victory. It marked the fourth runner-up finish in four World Cup races for Willoughby, and he overtook Fields for the overall series title.
"I saw Laura winning, and I said, 'I can't stay behind now,'" said van Gendt, who was the fifth-place finisher at the Olympics. "I still can't believe it, myself.
"Someone hit my bike (in the early crash), and I almost flipped over. But I had the inside advantage on Sam, and I held on until the finish line."
For Nyhaug, the weekend wasn't a total loss – the Canadian Olympian hopped back on his bike and pedalled his way to fourth place in Saturday's race, and he also picked up a silver medal in Friday's time trial event. He covered the course in 30.396 seconds, finishing just behind Willoughby (30.073) and just ahead of van Gendt (30.502).
"I'm really happy," Nyhaug said. "I made all four supercross finals this year. I had a great start and I was battling for first almost the whole shot. I crashed and got fourth, but it was a really fun final and I'm proud of myself.
"And it's my first time trial podium of the year. I wanted to win, of course, but I'll take a second."
In the women's time trail, Australian Caroline Buchanan (33.667 seconds) was the winner, followed by Stancil (34.073) and Smulders (34.610).
Buchanan crashed early in Saturday's final, but she got back on her bike and finished fifth, which was enough to clinch the overall points title.
HOSTING WORLD CUP AN 'AMAZING EXPERIENCE'
The World Cup finale drew riders from 14 nations. Organizers had been expecting more than double that number, but many riders – including Olympic champions Maris Strombergs of Latvia and Mariana Pajon of Colombia – elected to close the book on their season after the London Games.
Nevertheless, the event was a success in many respects. Between the hype of the Olympics and hosting a World Cup, Cycling BC CEO Keith Ryan pointed out that 2012 has been a big year for promoting the sport of BMX in Canada.
"For us to be able to place the sport in the media consistently really makes a difference," Ryan noted. "We want young children to take up the sport, and one of the best ways to do that is through major events."
Union Cycliste Internationale, the sport's governing body, has awarded Abbotsford another Supercross World Cup in 2013, and Ryan said his group will build on the experience they gained hosting this year's event.
"It was an amazing experience from start to finish, really," he said. "It was quite daunting when we were offered the opportunity. But we'd wanted it, and we said this was a goal of ours when we built the big start hill here in Abbotsford.
"It's been better than we could have possibly imagined."
Twan van Gendt (148) surged ahead of Sam Willoughby to win the elite men's final at the BMX Supercross World Cup event in Abbotsford on Saturday. (John Morrow photo)