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New Zealand’s leading BMX riders begin in earnest their quest for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with the all-important UCI World Cup competition underway in Manchester this weekend.

There are 10 rounds of the World Cup – double-headers in five different venues – from April until September along with the UCI World Championships in Belgium in July.

While the Olympic qualifying period continues until the world championship in June next year, it is this year’s World Cup results that will be pivotal to New Zealand’s chances of securing qualifying spots.

Six New Zealand riders will compete in the double header in Manchester this weekend – former junior world champion Maynard Peel, Michael Bias and Cole McOnie in the men, with London Olympic silver medallist Sarah Walker, Rebecca Petch and Jessie Smith in the women.

New Zealand is currently ranked fifth in the nation rankings for females, with Petch 11th and Walker 13th on individual rankings. The top two nations earn three spots for Tokyo, nations ranked 3 to 5 earn two places each and those ranked sixth to 11th have one spot.

Walker, the oldest rider in elite female field at 30, showed late last year that she is close to returning to the form that earned her an Olympic medal in London as she focuses on a potential third Olympics. She is supporting Hamilton teenager Jessie Smith, a multi-age group world champion, on to the World Cup. They have been signed by the Team TVE Sport, run by Frank Smulders, father of the Dutch stars Laura and Merel Smulders, who have been close friends with Walker since they entered the sport.

Petch, 20, from Te Awamutu has continued to progress at the highest level, with semifinal performances at the world championships and her first world cup final at Zolder in Belgium last year.

Nine of the top 10 world ranked females will compete in Manchester among 51 starters that sees the return of Colombia’s Maria Pajon, the triple world and double Olympic champion, back from nearly a year out of the sport with injury.

The Kiwi men have by far the bigger battle, currently sitting in only 20th spot of 47 nations on the UCI rankings with only the top 11 nations earning the bulk of the qualifying spots for Tokyo.

However it is the first venture into the hurly-burly of BMX World Cup competition for the trio which may prove a baptism of fire with 139 male riders entered for Manchester including all top 10 ranked men.

The heat is on from the get-go in the World Cup format where the top four riders go through from each first round heat to the next. This process continues all the way until the last eight riders remain to contest the grand final. A repechage format gives all round one non-qualifiers a “last chance” race with two riders progressing from each heat.

This means the World Cup competition is completed in under five hours of non-stop action, with two rounds on the weekend.

The UCI BMX World Cup schedule is:

Rounds 1 and 2: Manchester (GBR) 27/28 April; Rounds 3 and 4: Papendal (Netherlands) 11/12 May; Rounds 5 and 6: St Quentin (Paris) 8/9 June; Rounds 7 and 8: Rock Hill (USA) 13/14 September; Rounds 9 and 10: Santiago del Estero (Argentina) 28/29 September. BMX World Championships, Zolder (Belgium) 23-27 July.

CAPTION: Rebecca Petch competes in last year's World Cup competition in Zolder. (Photo credit: Nico van Dartel).

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