Italy has won the first gold medal decided at the 2009 UCI Mountain Bike & Trials World Championships in Canberra.
The Italian team of Marco Fontana (Elite), Gerhard Kerschbaumer (Jnr), Eva Lechner (Elite) and Cristian Cominelli (U23) won the team relay in a time of 1hr14min02sec, narrowly beating Canada (Raphael Gagne (U23), Geoff Kabush (Elite), Evan Guthrie (Jnr) and Catharine Pendrel (Elite) who finished six seconds behind in second place with defending World Champions France (Alexis Vuillermoz (U23), Cedric Ravanel (Elite), Hugo Drechou (Jnr) and Cecile Rode Ravanel (Elite)), two seconds further back, in third place.
"What we expected today was a medal for sure, but not yet, the gold medal was hard but at the end we got it," Fontana said after the race. "The course was one of the best courses I've ever ridden, it's really funny (ed: fun), it's really technical."
In the team relay 19 nations each entered four riders, one elite man, one U23 man, one junior man and an elite woman. Each rider contested one lap of the 6.47km Stromlo Forest Cross Country course in the order determined by their coach and at the end of the lap tagged the next rider in their team.
The Italian team went into the final lap in third place, trailing France by 1min28sec and Canada by 1min21sec. But U23 rider Cominelli performed well to reel in and overtake both teams who had opted for their female riders to contest the last lap.
"We knew that we were strong, and we knew that Switzerland and Sweden were strong as well," said Cominelli.
"It was a really exciting last lap for all of us between Italy, France and Canada," said Canadian Pendrel who outsprinted France in the final metres to clinch the silver for her team. "I had a good position going into the final stretch so I was hoping I could hold onto that."
The Australian home team, consisting of Chris Jongewaard (elite), Lachlan Norris (U23), Michael Baker (Jnr) and Rowena Fry (elite) finished 14th, 4min52sec off the winning time.
"I was really happy with the performance," said Australian Cross Country coach, Neil Ross. "Chris (Jongewaard) was in with a good bunch, I think Lachlan (Norris) in particular had a really good ride and Mick (Baker) caught up a few places and was as high as sixth.
"Rowena had a really good start but maybe struggled with the back half," said Ross who believes the order chosen was the right one. "It's really hard to pass on this course so we knew we had to get out there as quick as we could."
Jongewaard - who raced despite being cited for misconduct over a drink driving conviction - said he expected the international riders to be quick off the line.
"It was going to be a fast start and trying to get a gauge on how everyone from overseas is going was hard," said Jongewaard. "It's been a while since I had this level of competition but I got off to a good start and had the right wheel and the right position but I couldn't go on with it on the flat."
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.