This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
The first event of the UCI cross country mountain bike world championships, the team relay, came down to a sprint between Italy and France on Thursday afternoon in Saalfelden, Austria. Italy's Luca Braidot triumphed over France's Maxime Marotte in the end. Manuel Fumic crossed the line solo to secure third place for Germany over a minute later.
The two top teams took different strategies in ordering their riders. France sent U23 Jordan Sarrou out first, then junior Victor Koretzky, elite female Julie Bresset and finally Marotte.
Italy, on the other hand, put its elite male Marco Fontana first, and he blazed off the front to establish an early advantage for his team. Junior Beltain Schmid and elite female Eva Lechner followed before U23 rider Braidot finished it off for the win.
"We won. It's great for Italy," said Fontana. "It's just the first day so let's keep on rolling this way."
"It was so hard," said Marotte. "For me it was difficult to overtake the Italian rider Braidot because I was second and not on the 'A' line. We had talked about the sprint with the French team beforehand, and we knew it was important to be first in to the stadium. The coach was right. Congratulations to the Italian team."
When asked to comment on the team's strategy on order of riders, Fontana said, "I think you can either race with the elite man first or very last. We had a start loop on the gravel and then hit the course where it was narrow and singletrack, so having an elite man first was a good strategy. I knew I could be in the front straightaway, and then I just did my pace, and I think it was a good one. The last one was U23 rider Luca, who has already showed that he can have a quick lap Most of the other teams had the U23 first, so it was a bit easier for me."
During lap three, France's Bresset was in the lead, however, she stopped at the pits as she rolled through at about the halfway point to receive mechanical assistance. Italy's Lechner passed her just as she was about to get underway again, and the French woman regained the lead over the Italian by the end of lap three.
"My tired was flat at the beginning of my run," said Bresset. "I had to stop and change my wheel." The race might not have come down to a sprint without the mechanical as it cost Bresset her lead at the time.
The German team was happy with its bronze medal. Its final rider Fumic said, "When it was my turn, I was sixth and I knew we could reach a bronze medal. The first two teams had good riders. In the end, I had a good run and had good legs. I think the German team is very satisfied with the bronze medal. The Germans, were were not so good in the first lap or two, but we got closer and closer toward the finish."
Spitz was also delighted with the medal, especially as it would motivate the younger riders on her team. Still beaming after her silver medal at the Olympic Games, she noted that Germany had not won a team relay medal since 2010 at Mont-Saint-Anne, even though it often had a strong team on paper each year at Worlds. "Each person has to have a good ride. No one on the team can have a big crash or mechanical or not feel well."
Although it had rained earlier in the day, the course dried out somewhat, but was more challenging than it had been all week so far. "It was raining this morning until lunch time, so it was a bit slippery, but some sections were still good and rideable and pretty fast," said Fontana. "The very first, steep descent was really slippery. Other than that, the course was nice and fast and technical."