By Bardy the Action Scribe

The fast-paced, close-contact sport of BMX racing can be a lottery. Top riders can crash and lose dramatically one day but be unstoppable and out front the next. But it’s the classy riders that reach more finals than most and South Africa’s Sifiso Nhlapo is showing the kind of consistency that confirms his class.

Nhlapo raced confidently into the finals at Rounds 5 and 6 of the 2008 European Championships in Fredericia, Denmark at the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday he tackled three qualifying motos (races) before moving through to the last 32 and then into the quarter-finals and semi-finals before lining up against Europe’s best in the finals.

In Round 5 on Saturday, the 20-year-old MTN rider got off to his customary fast start and went into the first turn in second place looking set for a certain shot at the podium. But Latvia’s Maris Strombergs in third place hit the wheel of the leading rider, compatriot Ivo Lakucs, causing Nhlapo a momentary, but costly delay as he unclipped from his pedal to avoid crashing.

Nhlapo managed to fight his way back into the tail of the pack and on the final turn a clash with Spain’s Pablo Galan Carrasco saw the South African crash and finish eighth.

In Sunday’s Round 6 final, Nhlapo and Strombergs tangled handlebars briefly after the first jump on the opening straight, which saw Nhlapo go down hard along with three other riders. Strombergs went on to win while the South African remounted and managed to salvage sixth place.

Two crashes in two finals would seem like a terrible weekend of racing to the uninitiated. Bad luck, yes, but Nhlapo’s ability to have made five out of the six European Championship finals this year shows he’s moved up a notch from occasional contender to class act.

The South African was leading the European Championship rankings for six weeks and has now dropped to tie second place with four rounds remaining.

The European Championships is the most competitive continental championship in the world and Nhlapo’s bright yellow racing gear is becoming a regular among the likes of Thomas Allier (FRA), multiple world champion and reigning European champion, Martijn Scherpen (NED), multiple European and world champion and Latvia’s all-conquering trio of Strombergs, Lakucs and Arturs Matisons.

Nhlapo is considered a strong contender to make the 32-rider field to contest the first ever Olympic BMX racing medals at the Beijing Games in August. The South African’s next major race is the first round of the 2008 UCI Supercross World Cup in Madrid, Spain on Friday and Saturday.

2008 European Championships
Round 5: Fredericia, Denmark  
Elite Men Final
1. Ivo Lakucs (LAT)
2. Evgeny Komarov (RUS)
3. Martijn Scherpen (NED)
4. Roy van den Berg (NED)
5. Maris Strombergs (LAT)
6. Pablo Gutierrez (FRA)
7. Pablo Galan Carrasco (ESP)
8. Sifiso Nhlapo (RSA)

Round 6: Fredericia, Denmark  
Elite Men Final
1. Maris Strombergs (LAT)
2. Ivo Lakucs (LAT)
3. Martijn Scherpen (NED)
4. Roy van den Berg (NED)
5. Thomas Allier (FRA)
6. Sifiso Nhlapo (RSA)
7. Sebastian Kartfjord (NOR)
8. Thomas Hamon (FRA)

2008 European Championship rankings after Round 6
1 Maris Strombergs (LAT) 197 points
2 Sifiso Nhlapo (RSA) 181
2 Ivo Lakucs (LAT) 181
4 Arturs Matisons (LAT) 158
5 Thomas Hamon (FRA) 149
6 Martijn Scherpen (NED) 146
7 Thomas Allier (FRA) 142
8 Pablo Guitierrez (FRA) 140
9 Roy van den Berg (NED) 135
10 Rob van den Wildenberg (NED) 129