France celebrated a triumphant start at the 2023 UEC European Cyclocross Championships, clinching gold in the Mixed Team Relay on their home turf in Pontchâteau. The French squad’s stellar performance culminated in a finishing time of 42:47, leaving Great Britain trailing by 33 seconds to claim silver, and Belgium rounding out the podium another 34 seconds behind for the bronze.
This victory comes in the wake of the mixed team relay’s recent establishment as a medal event at the Cyclocross World Championships in Hoogerheide this February, where the Netherlands had taken the top honours, with Great Britain and Belgium securing silver and bronze respectively – the same lineup of medalists as witnessed in Pontchâteau, barring the French who had previously finished just off the podium.
The French team, comprised of a mix of junior and U23 riders, demonstrated remarkable synergy over the course of the six-lap race. With Rémi Lelandais, just 21, positioning France in second place on his lap, and Célia Gery, only 17, maintaining the momentum, the rest of the team, including Electa Gallezot, Hélène Clauzel, and Joshua Dubau, displayed a collective strength that left their rivals trailing and ultimately secured the gold medal for France.
Great Britain, energised by notable riders Anna Kay and Cameron Mason, made a commendable run for gold but ultimately settled for silver, showcasing the depth of talent among their ranks.
Belgium’s team, missing some of the marquee names on the men’s side, yet fielding strong riders like Sanne Cant and Witse Meeussen, completed the race with a sense of déjà vu, as they matched their bronze finish from the previous year. Meeussen’s powerful final lap was pivotal in overtaking Italy, underlining the importance of strategic prowess and endurance in the latter stages of the race.
In his post-race reflections, Meeussen was candid about the mix of skill and fortune that contributed to their final standing. An Italian misstep opened the door, and Meeussen’s efforts at the barriers were critical in seizing the third-place finish. The 22-year-old emphasised the collective will to succeed, stating that it’s that which ultimately defines the spirit of the competition.
France’s victory not only sets the stage for a highly competitive championship but also highlights the potential popularity and recognition of the mixed-team relay format in cyclocross. With the event still in its relative infancy on the world stage, the European Championships have offered a glimpse into the potential for strategic team dynamics and the excitement of mixed-gender racing in the sport.
There will be no racing tomorrow due to inclement weather, so the entirety of the rest of the European Championships, including the women’s elite race, will take place on Sunday instead.