France retained the mixed relay world title in Hamburg, beating the host nation into second place as British hopes were dashed after a disastrous opening leg from Jess Learmonth.
Commonwealth champions Australia edged New Zealand for the final podium spot, with the highly-fancied USA team struggling in ninth and the Brits a distant 2min 29sec back, cut adrift in 10th.
Vincent Luis, runner-up in the men’s individual competition the previous afternoon, anchored the winning quartet of Emilie Morier, Leo Bergere and Cassandre Beaugrand over a 300m swim, 7km bike and 1.7km run course that was contested by 16 nations.
And the decisive break was started by Beaugrand’s stylish running on the penultimate leg, where she eked out a 5sec gap over the chasing pack to set Luis up for the swim.
While the time was all but clawed back in the water, a swift transition alongside Germany’s Justus Nieschlag gave the duo an advantage they built into an unassailable lead by the time they dismounted the bike.
From there Luis powered away to take the tape for the third time in five years for the French, marking him out as the most feared finisher in mixed relay competition.
Britain’s deficit to the front was underlined by Alex Yee overtaking the pair to un-lap himself on the two-lap run as they approached the finish.
But the problems started for GB from the first hooter, when Learmonth, who did not race in the individual competition and usually leads the swim, looked to struggle from the first stroke and came out of the water second last.
From there she was dropped further on the bike and finished her leg over 70sec down, giving Jonathan Brownlee an improbable task of chasing solo to hunt down the main pack that had converged to contain all the leading nations.
The USA were the next to suffer, with Eli Hemming being unable to stick the pace on the bike. By the time he tagged Katie Zafares, even the WTS leader was unable to drag her country back into contention, despite clocking the fastest leg.
There were no such problems for the leading seven of Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand and Spain, until the latter picked up a 10sec penalty for an infringement at the dismount line that would eventually cost them fifth place to Canada.
The competitors were of a higher calibre to Nottingham in June where Britain dominated, and the racing was also in stark contrast. By the time Georgia Taylor-Brown was ploughing another lone furrow on the third leg, her objective was to avoid the ignominy of being lapped out on the bike that befell Switzerland, Mexico and South Africa.
On to the final leg and once Luis and Nieschlag had established the break, despite the vociferous support of the home crow, there only ever looked one winner as France became the first country to successfully defend the mixed relay title since Britain in 2012, and installed themselves as early favourites for Olympic gold next year in Tokyo.