Team Tahiti in training. (Photo by Con Chronis/Getty Images)

We are all in for the underdogs of the mixed team time trial relay

For some of the nations competing today, it's an achievement just to get to the start line.

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WOLLONGONG, Australia (CT) – One of the feel-good aspects of the Road World Championships is the fact that, lining up alongside the powerhouses of the cycling world, are a selection of tiny nations that are there for the experience. The mixed team time trial relay, to be held today, will see the likes of Australia, the Netherlands, and Italy duking it out for the medals. At the other end of the results sheet, we’re likely to see some less familiar nations. 

Most of their riders haven’t competed professionally. Some of them are the oldest competitors in Wollongong, and some of them are among the youngest. Most of them aren’t competing in any other event during the championships. But for one day – and one day only – this is their moment on the sport’s biggest stage. 

First out of the gate at 2.23pm local time will be the Pacific island of Tahiti, a semi-autonomous French territory located roughly halfway between Australia and South America. Their team includes 44-year-old Tekau Hapairai, former French pro Elodie Touffet, and Taruia Franz Krainer, who raced at club level in France for several years. 

Also, their kit is amazing:

Next up, New Caledonia (2.27pm local time). New Caledonia is also a Pacific island nation, located quite a bit closer to Australia, and – like Tahiti – is a French territory. That means, with France competing later in the event, there are a total of 18 French citizens riding in the mixed team time trial relay.  

That’s not the only statistical quirk to result from New Caledonia’s presence in the race. There’s a 24-year spread in age between the youngest and oldest rider on the team, with Patricia Themereau and David Schavits both born in the late 1970s. I am yet to see their kit, but hopes are high. 

Third off the line is Samoa, a team with a rider born in 1978 and another rider born in 2005, giving them an inter-team age range of some 27 years. 

The last of the non-European teams (with the exception of Australia) is the World Cycling Centre team. The WCC is a Swiss-based offshoot of the UCI based at its Aigle headquarters, with a remit of providing opportunities for cyclists from non-traditional cycling nations. Past trainees include Chris Froome and Daniel Teklehaimanot. Although the UCI is currently housing a number of Afghan and Ukrainian cyclists at its facilities, the WCC team in Wollongong comprises riders from African nations including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Algeria. 

The event concludes with the powerhouse European teams, comprised entirely of professionals who have little opportunity to practice team time trials throughout the year, especially not with compatriots who may ride for different trade teams. The format – comprising three male riders completing one lap of the time trial course, followed by three female riders who set off when the second male rider completes the course – is likely to be fast, frenetic, and potentially weather-affected.

The French team in training. (Photo by Con Chronis/Getty Images)

While the top teams will likely be going much faster than the minnows of the mixed team time trial, there’s still an element of chaos lurking in the wings in this unconventional racing format. As Belgium’s Quinten Hermans explained: “it’s always an experiment: you come together, hope for a good day, and wait and see if it works.” 

From the best in the world to 44-year-old Pacific Islanders, there’s at least that in common.

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