LONDON (Reuters) - Home advantage, of sorts, proved crucial for Raymon van der Biezen when the Dutchman eased into the semi-finals of the Olympic men’s BMX competition on Thursday.
The Dutch federation built a near replica of the London VeloPark track to help their athletes perform at the Games and Van der Biezen has been taking advantage.
Having clocked the fastest time in the seeding run, he won his three eight-man quarter-final runs on the sun soaked track, perfectly mastering the tricky opening bend before breezing away.
Asked how many times he had run on his replica home track, Van der Biezen told reporters: ”Thousands of times, as much as I could.
”The layout is the same but the jumps are different. We have a good track to train and it’s a thing many people don’t have. I‘m happy with the support I have from my federation.
“I know what I‘m capable of, I just need to be there at the right time, as I am now.”
British rider Liam Phillips, who also qualified for Friday’s semi-finals, was surprised by the world number eight’s form.
“I‘m not going to lie, it’s quite a big shock,” Phillips told reporters.
“He’d be the first to admit he has had a bad season by his standards.”
Phillips was beaten in his quarter-final runs by American Connor Fields, who also won all three dashes.
“He’s the favorite, he’s a fantastic rider. He certainly hasn’t played all his cards now,” Phillips added of Fields.
As so often in BMX, most of the runs were marred by crashes, with the most spectacular happening in the first run of the third heat.
France’s Joris Daudet caused a major pile-up when he crashed face first in the first bend, leaving New Zealand’s Marc Willers to cruise to victory while the seven other riders were strewn across the track looking for their bikes.
Defending champion Maris Strombergs of Latvia also qualified for the semi-finals.
“When I was in the gate I was pretty sure I was going to have to do five motos (runs),” he told reporters.
”But I wanted to do my third moto as good as I could just to get that confidence back and that was my goal. And then when I crossed the finish line I looked up and saw I was second.
“I was relieved to be honest. I was a bit nervous, too many thoughts were in my head and it was much harder than I thought.”
World champion and pre-event favorite Sam Willoughby of Australia had to go through two extra runs to qualify after he did not finish the first three runs in the top two.
Willoughby was in a class of his own in the first of the additional runs, meaning he just had to play safe in the second and could spare energy.
“Couple of mistakes early but I‘m still pretty safe,” the world number one told reporters.
“I did one extra so I‘m fine, it’s not a big deal.”
Editing by Mark Meadows