The first day of racing at the 2017 MTB World Championships saw 5 riders from each country go full gas in the Team Relay.
The 2017 Mountain Bike World Championships have started. The campaign of World Cups in 2014 and 2016 that lead to the World Championships in 2017 has come to the climax. And today's Team Relay was the first Championship event, with five stripey jerseys to be handed out to the winning team.
The Team Relay now has five riders take a hit at the course, one lap at a time. Each team must have and U23 man, U23 or U19 woman, U19 man, and elite man and elite woman. Australia fielded Dan McConnell, Bec Henderson, Holly Harris, Tasman Nankervis and Cameron Wright.
Cam took the start for Australia, and was lined up against the likes of Canada's Peter Disera, New Zealand's Sam Gaze, Jordan Sarrou of France, Luca Braidot of Italy and Spain's Carlos Coloma.
The start was a frenzy of tyres slipping on gravel as riders laid down the horsepower under the warm tropical sun. The course is super dry and loose, and it was a battle to get into the trails first the volume of dust would cause havoc on lungs and with vision.
It was Sam Gaze who lit it up though, laying down a 12:05 on the first lap and putting New Zealand into the lead. By the 2nd lap it was Italy, thanks to the start from Braidot and the effort of 2nd rider Juri Zanotti. Australia was up to 6th, thanks to a fast start by Cam and another quick lap by Nankervis.
Australia's great start was stalled with a flat tyre for Holly Harris, who was on a great ride but suffered the bad luck that racing can bring. We dropped to 16th.
Now, Canada was in charge. Holden Jones was first in for the third lap and Catherine Pendrel held their position as the 4th rider. But with riders like Jaroslav Kulhavy, Manuel Fumic and Nino Schurter on the fence for the last lap – could Canada's U23 woman Anne Julie Tremblay hold the lead?
Riders charged into the final lap, and spectators flooded to the finish straight to see who could make it in. We heard Nino had moved into the front, but 2nd and 3rd were super tight!
Schurter crossed the line straight to the rest of his team, as the four other riders flooded to the line. Simon Andreassen sprinted Neilo Perrin Ganier of France to put Denmark in 2nd. Dan McConnell put in a blistering 12:03 to move Australia back to 14th. This was the 3rd fastest lap of the day, behind the 11:59 of Schurter and Anton Cooper.
Speaking to Schurter post race, we asked about the change to five riders from four, and how it changes the race dynamic.
“It doesn't really change the startegy, it makes the strong nations even stronger, and for the small nations it is hard to find an extra strong rider. So the new team relay is even better for us”
He went on to explain that the cycling system is so strong in Switzerland, kids start riding early, it's fun and they have professionals to look up to. And of course – the riding is good. “Switzerland is the perfect country to ride a mountain bike.”
Jolanda Neff hasn't had luck in Australia, with her worst result in 2014 on the course. But while she hasn't had a great season in her own words – she's found form now, evident with her World Cup win in Val di Sole.
“I always think it matters how your shape is, and not how the track looks. I've had a good race last week, and I'm starting to feel better this season. The track is really nice and I like it here. Let's hope the track will be fine. Today was a good start for the whole Swiss team and everyone, and the whole team spirit.”
While Australia ended up in 14th our riders had solid results. Dan McConnell truly showed his form, and let's hope Cam's flat out lap has prepared him for his race tomorrow.
You can find the full results online.