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UCI Road World Championships: Mixed relay TTT plays welcome distraction ahead of road race priorities

'It's always an experiment: you come together, hope for a good day, and wait and see if it works.' New event brings unfinessed thrills to worlds week.

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Pedal as hard as you can and hope for the best – that’s the prevailing mood ahead of the UCI Road World Championships mixed relay team time trial.

The UCI’s newest six-rider sideshow returns Wednesday in an event some nations see as a welcome, if hard-fought, distraction ahead of bigger things to come.

“In itself it’s quite a nice discipline,” Belgian rider Quinten Hermans told Het Nieuwsblad. “But I notice that even the countries that start here with their very best riders do not really focus on it. Even then, then they have to train together for a month in the middle of a busy season.

“It is always an experiment: you come together, hope for a good day, and then wait and see if it works.”

Also read: How to watch the UCI Road World Championships – streaming, time zones and race schedules

Sixteen teams are set to take on the mixed relay TTT on Wednesday. The U.S. team finished eighth in 2021 but is sitting out the Wollongong circuits this year while Magnus Sheffield recovers from his crash in the individual event.

Three male riders will roll down the start ramp and power through a 14.1km circuit before three women take over and complete the same loop. Only one male and one female rider can afford to be dropped in each section of the race.

The Netherlands won the inaugural edition in 2019 when the new format was introduced to replace the trade team race. The relay took a time-out in 2020 when the road worlds followed a reduced schedule before the German six scored gold last year.

Patch it together and pedal hard

Ganna leads the Italians as the “Azzuri” goes all in.

This year, Italy, Germany and Australia take favorites’ status for the third edition of the mixed relay.

For former champions the Netherlands and many teams with the biggest ambitions in this weekend’s road races, the TTT is more a novelty “opener” than the main course.

Mathieu van der Poel makes one of the Dutch six after Annemiek van Vleuten persuaded him to take part.

“I’m looking forward to it,  It’s something new and I’m always up for it. I’ve never done it, so it’s the first time,” Van der Poel told AD. “The last time I did a team time trial was a long time ago, with the juniors on a regular bike I think. I can’t even remember it.”

A trade team time trial is tweaked and optimized over months of data analysis and team meetings. Riders are given a pre-prescribed rolling order according to wattage, ability to offer draft, and status in a team’s stage race ambition.

Meanwhile, some nations will ride into Wednesday’s mixed TTT relying on raw power and blind hope.

Many teams are scrambling out their first recon and team configuration rides Tuesday, with one final tune-up coming just hours before the race. Some haven’t even publically confirmed their six yet.

“We have never ridden a team time trial with the three of us,” Nathan van Hooydonck said of his two Belgian male teammates. “There’s an official training Tuesday where we’ll make some agreements, for example who is riding behind whom.”

However, some nations are making the mixed relay a must-win. The Italian team takes Filippo Ganna and U23 champion Vittoria Guazzini to the race and are going all-in for gold.

Also read: Vittoria Guazzini makes history as first U23 women’s time trial world champion

But ripping around a city center circuit burning with lactic and unpracticed in team tactic comes loaded with risk.

Nations with the most serious designs on a road race medal won’t be railing any corners on possibly wet roads Wednesday. Domestiques and leadout riders will ride the relay while team captains keep safe on the couch.

Hermans, Van Hooydonck, and Pieter Serry make Belgium’s male TTT trio Wednesday before they pull for Remco Evenepoel and Wout van Aert in the road race Sunday. The rare chance to take the spotlight in the team time trial will be overshadowed by upcoming team obligations at the weekend.

“We have to be honest. We see this as a final preparation for the road race, we want to become world champions there with a Belgian. And that is a top priority,”  Van Hooydonck said.

“We’re not going to take any risks. Especially now that they predict bad weather on Wednesday. It would be very stupid if any of us fell and couldn’t race on Sunday.”

Opening the lungs and serving up thrills in advance of Olympic inclusion

Germany will be hoping to defend their titles Wenesday – but Tony Martin won’t be there.

If nothing else, Wednesday’s mixed relay TTT offers an opportunity to open the lungs and test unfamiliar Australian tarmac at race-pace.

“It’s no inconvenience,” Belgian rider Valerie Demey said. “In any case, it doesn’t hurt to go really deep a few days before the road race. And that we have little chance of winning? Well, we’ll do our best and then we’ll see where the ship ends up.”

Wednesday’s team time trial may split opinions among riders and spectators. But it’s sure to serve some high-paced thrills in what will be a fiercely competitive race.

Last year Germany squeezed out the Netherlands by 13 seconds in a super high-pace 52kph race.

The rainbow bands given to the winners rarely get given an outing, but still carry weight for the winners and prestige for their countries as the mixed format event pedals toward inclusion in the Olympics. The annual increase in teams attending is a testament to the event’s growing place in the sport.

And above all, the riders relish the opportunity to try something different.

“The last time I touched a time trial bike was before the Tour’s prologue,” Van der Poel said. “So I’ve not prepared for this. But it’s just hard pedaling and there are three of you, so we’ll see.”