Baku, June 26, AZERTAC
Laura Smulders of the Netherlands stormed into the final of the women's BMX cycling competition after winning two of her motos heats despite starting from less favourable lane positions at the BMX Velopark in Baku on Friday.
The London 2012 Olympic Games bronze medallist finished only 11th in the qualification time trial earlier in the day, claiming there were "no prizes to be won" at that stage of the event. She turned on the power when it mattered, though, going under 38.4 seconds in all three of her motos heats and only dropping a position in the second run.
"It was necessary, because I'm quite tired now," said Smulders of her strategy for the event. "In both heats there were very strong contenders, so you can't hold back in a field like this. If you do that, you will be closed in and then it's over."
Denmark's Simone Christensen capitalised in the run in which Smulders failed to win, clocking 38.058 as she also eased into the final.
The fastest female rider through the motos was Belgian Elke Vanhoof, who won both time trials and then clocked 36.949 seconds in her final run of the day to send a strong message to her rivals.
"I wanted to finish on a high note, so I gave something extra in the final run and that paid off," Vanhoof said. "I wanted to see where we stand, because times don't lie."
In the men's event, three riders cruised into the semi-finals by winning all three of their heats in the motos.
World no.4 Joris Daudet of France – the highest-ranked male BMX rider in Baku – could not improve on his 32.938 from the time trial, but was still fast enough to win all three runs in his heat by at least a bike length in an untroubled route to the semi-finals.
"I have been training hard for this and it was my goal," said a confident Daudet of his performance. "This was not unexpected. Hopefully I will do the same on Sunday and bring home the gold medal."
There was double joy for France with Amidou Mir also posting a perfect record, while Twan van Gendt added some Dutch orange to the French blue with three wins from three in his heat.
These three will be the riders the others will have to beat in order to secure a podium place on Sunday.
There were several crashes in the motos on Friday as the BMX competition underlined its reputation for risk-taking and danger.
Nadja Pries suffered the heaviest fall just before the first bend in her second heat, but the German world no.25 was able to walk away after receiving medical attention on the track.
Among the men, Italy's Romain Riccardi, Jan Svub of the Czech Repubic and Norwegian Tore Navrestad all lost their wheels in separate crashes. The wipeout of the day involved Russian team-mates Evgeny Komarov and Evgeny Kleshchenko, who crossed the line in their final run in a mass tangle of arms and legs after a collision.
Both still qualified for the semi-finals, which will be run before the women's final on Sunday.
The men's final will complete the Baku 2015 European Games cycling competitions at 16:30 on Sunday.