2021 UCI BMX World Cup offers final chance for Olympic qualification - How to watch

The best riders in the world will be battling for Olympic ranking points when the BMX racing season gets underway in Verona on 8 and 9 May, live on Olympic Channel.

By Sanjeev Palar
Picture by 2008 Getty Images

The BMX Supercross 2021 season flags off with the opening two rounds of the 2021 UCI BMX World Cup set to take place in Verona on 8 and 9 May.

After last year's season was abbreviated due to the global pandemic, the event in Italy is a welcome return to international competition for the riders, and will play a vital role in determining the qualification rankings for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021.

While most of the world's BMX racing elite have done enough to book their spot at the Games, there is still a lot to play for with the final rankings determining how many riders each nation can qualify to Tokyo.

With so much at stake, here's our preview ahead of the 2021 UCI BMX World Cup season opener which will also be streamed live on Olympic Channel.

The 2021 BMX World Cup season

The 2021 UCI BMX World Cup will consist of eight events that kick off with the first two rounds held back-to-back in Verona, Italy on 8 and 9 May.

It will then continue with rounds 3 and 4 held in Bogota, Colombia on 29 and 30 May.

These opening four rounds of the World Cup season are the last chance for riders to gain ranking points before the end of the Olympic qualification period on 30 May 2021.

The final four rounds of the season will take place in Sakarya, Turkey over two weekends in October on 23 and 24 October, as well as 30 and 31 October.

Battling for Olympic BMX qualification

A total of 48 riders, 24 male and 24 female, will compete in BMX racing at the upcoming Games in Tokyo.

With two places, 1 male and 1 female, already allocated to the host country Japan, the remaining 46 spots will be decided by the rankings at the end of the qualification period on 30 May 2021.

The top two ranked nations in the men's and women's respectively will be eligible to send three athletes to Tokyo, while the nations ranked third, fourth and fifth can qualify two athletes and the nations ranked sixth to eleventh will get one spot each.

As it stands, USA lead both the men's and women's rankings. However with four rounds of racing still to come and plenty of points up for grabs, we can expect significant changes in the ranking order which will in turn impact the number of qualification spots each country will earn.

READ: OLYMPIC BMX RACING AT TOKYO 2020: TOP FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

USA looking to lead the field without Fields

USA's Connor Fields may be the reigning Olympic champion but he is currently second in the individual rankings behind 2018 world champion Sylvain Andre from France.

However Fields has clearly done enough to earn him a ticket to the Games and will not be competing in Verona. Neither will his compatriot and 2017 world champion Corben Sharrah.

Instead, the Americans will field their third and fifth highest ranked riders, Jeremy Smith and Kamren Larsen along with Anthony Bucardo who is currently ranked 96th overall.

The trio will be entrusted in ensuring that they maintain or build on USA's 144 points advantage at the top of the nations rankings in what could also be an internal shootout for the third qualification seat.

Second spot is worth three qualification places for Toyko

France and Colombia are locked in a tight fight to secure the second spot in the rankings as it will crucially enable them to qualify a third rider for the Games in Japan.

France will look to rankings leader Sylvain Andre but also have at their disposal three other riders all ranked within the top 21 in the likes of Romain Mayet, Romain Mahieu and Eddy Clerte.

But Colombia, who are 107 points adrift of France, have an equally impressive line-up led by Rio 2016 bronze medallist Carlos Alberto Ramirez Yepes who along with Diego Alejandro Arboleda Ospina and Mariana Pajon's husband Vincent Pelluard will look to move up in the nations rankings to enable all three of them to race in Tokyo.

Switzerland and Australia will be aiming to consolidate, if not improve on, their fourth and fifth place ranking at the moment to ensure they can qualify a pair each.

But the team to watch out for is sixth place Netherlands who are only 39 points adrift of the top five and will look to the likes of 2015 world champion Niek Kimmann to gain them valuable points that will allow them to, at least, qualify both riders to Tokyo 2020. 2019 world champion Twan van Gendt will miss the event after dislocating his shoulder.

Mariana Pajon headlines the women's elite

Two-time and reigning Olympic champion Mariana Pajon from Colombia will be the one to watch in Verona.

The six-time world champion has sufficient points to defend her title in Tokyo but will be looking to help haul Colombia up from its current fourth place ranking.

USA top the table but have seemed to adopt a similar approach as its men's team, opting to sit out top ranked Alise Willoughby from competing in Italy. The Rio 2016 silver medallist will be cheering for her teammates from the comfort of her home and hoping that they can preserve their comfortable 375 point cushion at the top.

The Netherlands are hoping to hang on to their second spot in the rankings and will have 2018 world champ Laura Smulders to help them. The Dutch rider is looking to become a three-time Olympian in Tokyo, having won bronze at London 2012.

While France in third place will be fielding their best in Verona led by Axelle Etienne, Camile Maire and Manon Valentino who are all ranked within the top 13.The trio will be highly motivated to gain a place in the rankings as it will enable all three of them to make the trip to Japan.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on Aruba's sole entry, 22-year-old Shanayah Howell who is surprisingly ranked fourth in the individual standings.

With plenty to race for, be sure to watch the all the action from the opening rounds of the 2021 UCI BMX World Cup season which be streamed live on Olympic Channel.

How to watch 2021 UCI BMX World Cup season opener from Verona live

The event on 8th and 9th May 2021 will be live on Olympic Channel, and can be streamed from around the world via Olympics.com right here.

Bookmark the page and come back to watch live, or keep up to date with the best of the action and highlights clips via @Olympics handles on social media.