Just over an hour before their nation kicked-off in Moscow, attempting to win the football World Cup for the second time, a youthful French quartet achieved the same feat in the ITU Mixed Relay World Championship.
It was an impressive curtain-raiser for the sporting afternoon in Hamburg as Leonie Periault, Dorian Coninx, Cassandra Beaugrand and Vincent Luis repeated the gold medal success of 2015.
Australia’s fast-finishing Jacob Birtwhistle just defeated USA’s Kevin McDowell in a dramatic sprint for second, and although Britain had been well-placed for much of the race, Tom Bishop eventually slipped to fourth on the anchor leg, 63sec behind the champions.
"We came here with the A Team. When everything works, the team works, and we had a great race. Let's hope for the same for the match tonight," Luis said. "We are also really looking forward to racing the relay in the Olympics. It will be a special atmosphere - we've never won an Olympic triathlon medal."
The two-man, two-woman relay is taking on increasing importance in elite triathlon. It was accepted as an additional medal even at Tokyo 2020, and is playing a more prominent role in this season’s World Triathlon Series as Olympic qualifying gets underway.
The first competition of this season’s trio of events took place on the banks of the Trent in Nottingham in June, and there is a further contest in Edmonton in a fortnight.
Australia won last year’s world title in Hamburg and backed that up with victory in April’s Commonwealth Games. It’s a title Great Britain has won three times, but not since 2014.
Twenty teams lined up, with Britain represented by Vicky Holland, Jonny Brownlee, Jodie Stimpson and Bishop.
Netherlands’ Rachel Klamer led out the first 300m swim, narrowly followed by GB’s Holland and the pair - who both had spills on the bike in yesterday’s individual race - quickly set about establishing a lead.
The gap could not be sustained into T2 though, and it was France’s Periault and Germany’s Laura Lindemann, buoyed by the home crowd and her second-place finish from yesterday, who led out the 1.6km run.
On to the second leg, and after Jonas Schomburg emerged first from the swim, a group of four formed on the bike as the German was joined by Brownlee, the USA’s Ben Kanute and France’s Coninx.
The quartet established a 18sec gap over the chasers into T2, and with the rest of the field starting to splinter - limiting the chances to work as a pack - it looked as if the break could be decisive.
Coninx was the quickest over the mile. A previous junior and world under-23 champion, he also won the French title last year - as did the women he handed over to, yesterday’s individual race winner, Beaugrand.
Brownlee was next in and set Stimpson away on to leg three, as Kanute kept the USA in the hunt, with Schomberg fading to end the home nation’s hopes
At the front, Beaugrand kept the advantage and looked as impressive as she had done in the individual event as she time-trialled solo for the lionshare of the 7km bike leg.
But behind her Stimpson was joined by Katie Zaferes and Japan’s Yuko Takahashi, who put in a superlative effort to join a three-woman chase pack that eventually caught the French youngster.
Beaugrand used her run pedigree to again help France take the lead on the run, but Zaferes clung on, leaving McDowell to start the final leg in contention with Luis.
After the two reached T1 together, Luis showed no appetite to work with the American and leave it all to the run, and immediately took off at the front.
By the halfway stage of the final bike leg, the McDowell was 10sec down, Bishop for GB had slipped to 47sec adrift and the ominous presence of Australia’s Birtwhistle was just 4sec further back.
As Luis savoured the finish chute, Birtwhistle powered past Bishop then remarkably clawed back the USA as McDowell tied up in the final stages.
Mixed Real World Championships. Final results
1. France 1.20.06
2. Australia +43sec
3. United States +45
4. Great Britain +63
5. Netherlands +78