Arguably the most exciting race of the world championship week, the Mixed Sprint Relay was the second round of racing to take place in Riga this weekend, after the individual Sprint Discipline on Saturday. With teams of four – two women and two men – teams tactically place their best runners on different legs with either the aim of breaking the pack early on leg 1 (run by the women), trying to break away in the middle on legs 2 and 3 (both run by the men), or biding their time to surge through the field on leg 4 (again, run by the women).
The terrain was much similar to that of the Sprint Qualification, with an extensive parkland section around the arena, but with far more of the racing taking place in the residential streets and between the flat-blocks of the Āgenskalns neighbourhood.
Charlotte Ward was the first leg for Britain, and she had to contend with an early pace setting from Tove Alexanderson of Sweden. Alexanderson, having taken yet another silver medal in the individual discipline to her Danish rival Maja Alm, evidently had a point to prove, front running from the gun. Charlotte was tucked into the pack as they came through the arena, with Switzerland’s Elan Roos aiding Alexanderson with the pace setting. As others began making mistakes as the race entered the more extensive forking sections in the final third, Charlotte began to move up the pack and would finish in =12 th , just 43 seconds down on the lead.
This sent Kris Jones out into the terrain and him too, like Alexanderson, was ready to put it all on the line after Saturday’s disappointment. Kris was placed on this leg tactically to break the men’s pack early on, with his superior pace compared to the rest of the field being used to open gaps in the pack. This worked spectacularly, with Kris scything through the field, pulling up to 9th by the arena passage, but gaining places all the time and finishing the leg in 2nd place, a mere 4 seconds down on the Swedish leaders, who had held their place at the front of affairs with Switzerland falling back.
Onto leg three and two distinct races seemed to form. With Sweden holding their lead in front, a chasing pack of four behind with Peter Hodkinson of GBR, Norway, Czech Republic, and Switzerland formed. Jonas Leandersson of Sweden accelerated into the race quickly, building up a near 20 second lead by the arena, increasing that only further to 47 seconds by the finish of his race. Behind, Peter Hodkinson raced to-and-fro with his rivals, holding his own and finishing the race in 4th, just 3 seconds down on 2nd place.
So, the medals were all to play for as the competitors entered the last leg. Karolin Olsson of Sweden started quickly, with the aim of keeping Swiss star Judith Wyder out of sight, and with individual champion Maja Alm starting 1 minute 44 seconds behind Olsson in 7th it was all to play for. Megan Carter-Davies for Britain was pushing hard in the pack, but with many of the world’s best runners on this last leg, it would always be hard to keep touch for a medal. Through the arena at halfway and Olsson was holding her position, but with Wyder closing the gap to 32 seconds, and Alm in seventh place, having taken back an initial ten seconds on the lead. Megan Carter-Davies had held her 4th place up to this point, but the pressure was beginning to mount from behind, and as they entered the second half though Alm began to light the afterburners. Putting in a similar run to Britain’s Kristian Jones, she cut swathes through the field pulling up from 7th into 4th and then, just running out of distance on the course, into 3rd place to take yet another medal for the Danish team in what seems to be their favourite discipline. Out in front, it was too much for Wyder to do to take back Olsson’s lead, and Switzerland had to settle for silver as Sweden took the gold medal. Behind, a late mistake for Megan cost her some time, and she slipped to 7th overall.
It wasn’t the result the GBR team had dreamed of, and they will be disappointed to finish just off the podium, but it only went to emphasise that we are consistently strong in this discipline, and when the racing goes our way medals will come to this talented group!
5. Czech Republic
6. Russian Federation
7. Great Britain
Well done to our sprints, that’s it for the Urban disciplines. Next up, we head to the forests of Sigulda for the Middle Distance race on Tuesday, with the first start at 9:56 UK time. The GB starts for the discipline are as follows:
Charlotte Watson – 11:14
Megan Carter-Davies – 11:18
Catherin Taylor – 11:58
Alasdair McLeod – 13:10
Ralph Street – 14:04