Marc Willers was within a snap of back-to-back success at the UCI BMX World Cup in the Netherlands.
After struggling to find his brilliant form of last year, the BikeNZ rider was in dominant form at Papendal today where he defended his World Cup Supercross title from last year.
The Californian based rider won his three-race qualifying group and the quarterfinal before a close second to Australian rival Sam Willoughby in the semifinal.
However the usually brilliant starter missed the gate in the final and was then forced to avoid two riders who crashed ahead of him, eventually wheeling across the line in fifth. Beijing Olympian Maris Strombergs (Latvia) turned back the clock with his first world cup win in two years to edge out Willoughby and American Dave Herman in the final.
While disappointed with his start in the final, Willers is confident he is close to his best, with the world championships in two weeks time in Birmingham.
“I was feeling really good all day. Just the gate in the main was one of those once in a million times when you go to do a start and nothing happened and I just stayed there instead of snapping out,” said Willers.
“It was fatigue and just didn’t get the snap. You are on the verge of perfect and being extremely average and that was extremely average.”
His attempt to get back into the race was thwarted when two riders crashed heavily in front of him.
“I saw the two riders come together. Luckily they had separated from their bikes and I managed to split between his leg and his bike. After that I realised there was no point and buttoned off.”
With the world championships in two weeks and now 11 weeks until the Olympics, Willers believes he is back on schedule.
“It’s been a tough year getting back to this point after last year, and trying to get back to where I was mentally. I believe this weekend that physically and mentally I ahead of where I was this time last year. In two weeks (at the world championships) I will be good to go.”
Willers won his stacked qualifying three-race moto with a win, a second and a third in a group including his nemesis Willoughby and the winner of the first two Supercross rounds this year Connor Field (USA).
He jumped superbly and was never headed in the quarterfinal and was just edged out
in the all-important battle for the first corner by Willoughby in the semifinal.
However it marked a much improved weekend for the BikeNZ rider after finishing fourth coming back from injury in the opening round in California but crashing out in the last event in Norway.
The weekend also proved an outstanding success for New Plymouth’s Matt Cameron and Victoria Hill.
Cameron not only qualified for his first World Cup Supercross but also made it through to the quarterfinals, finishing fourth in his qualifying group today behind world champion Joris Daudet. He bowed out in the first quarterfinal won by Willers.
Hill also enjoyed her first venture into international Supercross competition, also qualifying fourth in her group before going out in the quarterfinal.
The riders now head to London where they will be joined by Sarah Walker and Kurt Pickard, both back from injury, for three days practice on the revamped track in London before moving to Birmingham for the world championship.
Results, BMX Supercross World Cup, Papendal, Netherlands:
Men’s Quarterfinal 1: Marc Willers (NZL) 39.047, 1; Sam Willoughby (AUS) 2, Dave Herman 3, Joris Daudet (FRA) 4. Quarterfinal 2: Brian Kikham (AUS) 1, Raymon van der Biezen (NED) 2, Tory Nyhaug (CAN) 3. Quarterfinal 3: Maris Strombergs (LAT) 1, Carlos Ramirez (COL) 2, Quentin Caleyron (FRA) 3, Quarterfinal 4: Twan Van Gendt (NED) 1, Mike Day (USA) 2, Nic Long (USA) 3,
Semifinal 1: Willoughby 1, Willers 2, Herman 3, Nyhaug 4. Semifinal 2: Van Gendt 1, Caleyron 2, Strombergs 3, Ramirez 4.
Final: Strombergs1, Willoughby 2, Herman 3. Also: Willers 5.
Women, Quarterfinal 1: Caroline Buchanan (AUS) 1, Laetitia Le Corguille (FRA) 2, Magalie Pottier (FRA) 3. Also: Victoria Hill (NZL) 7.
Semifinal1: Buchanan 1, Le Corguille 2, Pottier 3. Semifinal 2: Alise Post (USA) 1, Brooke Crain (USA) 2, Laura Smulders (NED) 3.
Final: Post 1, Buchanan 2, Le Corguille 3.
Full results: www.uci.ch. Images to follow.