The European Championships began today with the inaugural Mixed Sprint Relay (MSR) taking place in the Czech town of Bruntál and the first fight for Gold writes Hollie Orr.
Left to right - Liz Campbell (Performance Coach), Jo Shepherd, Charlotte Ward, Peter Hodkinson and Kris Jones
If this is setting a precedent for the week to come then it will be a week of challenging racing full of excitement and, for some, turmoil, but the courses certainly screamed 'take me on!'
Possibly the most exciting MSR to date played out in the streets of Bruntál with Russia finally coming out triumphant taking advantage of a late mistake by Denmark after they had caught 45 seconds on the leading teams. The podium was completed with Switzerland in 3rd place after Sweden missed out a control on the last leg and the winners took it all.
This was not the only mistake of the day affecting the top places, the lead and gaps changed continuously from leg to leg leading to some nail biting watching for those in the arena and at home.
When the going gets tough the tough get going, this was certainly true of the long route choice to number one, splitting the first leg runners and unfortunately causing Charlotte Ward to drop off the first group. Hard work and determination, however, saw her move back through the pack from 13th up to 9th place at the finish 1min 15s down. She commented:"number one was the decider and strung out the pack, this was followed by a fairly straight-forward remainder with more parkland than I anticipated. I just tried to put in as much effort as possible to catch up the time I lost on the first control."
Peter Hodkinson took over the chase with a gap both in front and behind, the lonely hunter. Peter had a very stable race taking 5s off the deficit to the leading teams and finishing in a group with Denmark and France setting Kris Jones out in a strong group hunting the front runners. Pete said he was quite happy with how his race developed after a wobbly start, but it had been great fun and one of the most exciting races he had done. Pulling Great Britain up one place to 7th in a breathless effort he said: "it was quite technically easy, so the small errors in my race were annoying, but over all it was ok and a good race in preparation for the individual tomorrow. I think it was an on par performance from the team and all of us could identify room for improvement."
Kris had a solid run on the third leg before handing over to Jo Shepherd. Although Jo was disappointed with her performance on the long run to the first control she recovered well to execute the rest of the course and bring the team home in very credible 7th.
Tomorrow, the sprinters will compete in a morning qualifier before the finals take place in the afternoon, in Jesenik.
Good luck to Jonathan Crickmore, Peter Hodkinson, Kris Jones, Alice Leake, Kirstin Maxwell, Chris Smithard and Charlotte Ward.
Photo: Jo Shepherd running into the finish.
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