YORKSHIRE grit helped Great Britain win an unexpected medal on the opening day of the UCI Road World Championships.
Local hero Harry Tanfield, from Great Ayton, was part of the British team which produced a superb performance to finish third in the team time trial mixed relay.
But they were in danger of dropping off the podium until Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini was delayed by a rear wheel puncture in wet conditions on the toughest section of the 14km course around Harrogate.
Though Longo Borghini produced a remarkable ride to catch her two team-mates, their rhythm had been disrupted just enough for them to finish four seconds behind Great Britain.
With the host nation leading at that stage and only two teams still to finish, Great Britain were guaranteed a medal to kick-off the championships.
Gold was won by the Dutch team of Koen Bouwman, Bauke Mollema, Jos van Emden, Lucinda Brand, Riejanne Markus and Amy Pieters, with German claiming silver.
Britain’s third place was an emotional achievement for Tanfield whose mother Clare died suddenly at the end of last month. He had considered withdrawing from the event, but opted to ride in her memory and said: “To come away with a medal is fantastic.
“That’s why I wanted to do it, for my mum to be proud of me.”
The event featured 11 teams of three men and three women riding in three groups. The women began their lap when the second male rider crossed the line and the overall time was taken on the second female home.
Great Britain set the fastest time in the opening group, ahead of UCI World Cycling Centre, Spain, Belgium and Slovenia. As race leaders, they then faced a long wait on the podium to see if their time would be beaten. Switzerland, France and Denmark all failed to overhaul the hosts, leaving only the three most fancied teams, Germany, Italy and Holland, still to ride.
After Longo Borghini’s mishap, Italy fell by the wayside, but Germany finished almost half a minute ahead of Great Britain and then their time was smashed by Holland who claimed gold by 22.75 seconds.
The champions completed the course in 38 minutes 27.6 seconds, at an average speed of 43.058 kilometres per hour. But it was a superb effort by the British team – also including Daniel Bigham, John Archibald, Joscelin Lowden, Anna Henderson and Lauren Dolan – whose time was 39-18.87, an average speed of 42.122kph.
Tanfield admitted he hadn’t expected to be standing on the podium. He said: “We never anticipated getting a medal. From the start we knew it could be close, but the teams Italy, Germany and the Netherlands have, we knew they were going to be super-strong.
“In the end it came down to a couple of seconds. We gave everything we could, we got third, but the men, we were second at the halfway point so we’re really, really pleased with that.”
The Yorkshireman added: “Maybe we could have taken some risks in the corners, I bottled it a little bit.
“I wish I’d ridden the course this morning just to have a feel of it in the wet, but we executed the plan pretty well. Everybody gave everything we had.”
Excitement mounted as the afternoon progressed with Great Britain still in the leaders’ hot seat.
“It was good fun,” insisted Tanfield. “It was very, very tense; we knew at best we were going to get third place, it was just us versus Italy so we didn’t care about the others, they were going to beat us anyway. Fair play to the Netherlands and to Germany for bringing back that deficit, they brought back about a minute and a half on our women.
“Italy had the mechanical and that ruined their rhythm a bit, but these things happen. It was just very tense sat there watching.”
Longo Borghini was philosophical afterwards. She said: “I had to have a bike change and then I had to do an individual pursuit.
“I felt really strong, the men did a great job and we were doing a very good effort. I feel for my team-mates to have left them alone.”
Longo Borghini’s effort in catching colleagues Elena Cecchini and Tatiana Guderzo boded well for her chances in this week’s individual time trial.
“What an amazing ride to get back on,” said Great Britain’s Joscelin Lowden. “She deserved a medal for that really.”
Asked for her reaction to Italy’s bad luck, Lowden reflected: “It’s a really tricky one, obviously we want to win, but you don’t want to see people fail.”
Holland came close to disaster when Mollema touched wheels with a team-mate. Mollema recalled: “I don’t know really what happened. It was close and I just managed to stay upright. Luckily I did, it could have cost us the gold medal.”