It’s official the 2009 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Mount Stromlo just outside Canberra, Australia, are underway … with the Italians winning the opening event – the Team Relay.

Cristian Cominelli celebrates his country's win in the team relay

Cristian Cominelli celebrates his country's win in the team relay

The Team Relay is one of the slightly more obscure events at the World Championships, but provides riders with a good idea of how the track is going to handle at race pace, gives the organizers and commissaires a good indication of lap times and also allows us photographers to try out some shots prior to the big Elite XC race day.

The 19 national teams in the relay are made up of individuals from each of the four main XCO categories at the World Championships:

An elite male, an elite women, a U23 male and a Junior male. While the team composition is dictated by the organizers, the strategy is left to the teams and their coaches. Sometimes this is good, sometimes not so much.

The Italians played their cards in the right order with Marco Aurelio Fontana off first, handing over to European Junior Champion Gerhard Kerschbaumer who stormed through his lap to move them from second to first.

Eva Lechner was next up but lost ground, slipping the Italians to third behind a hard-charging France and Canada. U23 rider Cristian Cominelli chased down the leading women of Cécile Rode Ravanel (France) and Catharine Pendrel (Canada) to take the opening rainbow stripes of the week-long competition.

The first medallists in the 2009 World Championships

The first medallists in the 2009 World Championships

The USA finished down the rankings in 12th, when their gamble to put Heather Irminger in the opening lap came to grief as she got caught in the first lap bottleneck at the start.

Downhill practice also began today with riders testing out the new final run-in to the finish which organizers hope will help break up the 30-odd seconds of flat out pedalling to the line.

Wednesday’s schedule includes Junior and U23 Women’s XC, DH practice and the opening of 4X practice.

Results: Team Relay

1 Italy (Marco Aurelio Fontana/Gerhard Kerschbaumer/Eva Lechner/Cristian Cominelli) 1:14:02

2 Canada (Raphael Gagne/Geoff Kabush/Evan Guthrie/Catharine Pendrel) +0:06

3 France (Alexis Vuillermoz/Cédric Ravanel/Hugo Drechou/Cécile Rode Ravanel) 0:08

4 Sweden (Emil Lindgren/Tobias Ludvigsson/Alexandra Engen/Mattias Wengelin) 0:54

5 Switzerland (Florian Vogel/Matthias Stirnemann/Nathalie Schneitter/Fabian Giger) 1:00

6 Netherlands (Irjan Luttenberg/Michiel Van Der Heijden/Laura Turpijn/Jelmer Pietersma) 3:00

7 Germany (Moritz Milatz/Martin Gluth/Markus Bauer/Sabine Spitz) 3:04

8 Czech Republic (Jaroslav Kulhavy/Jan Nesvadba/Pavla Havlikova/Lukas Sablik) 3:24

9 Great Britain (Liam Killeen/Kenta Gallagher/Annie Last/David Fletcher) 3:25

10 Belgium (Sven Nys/Tom Meeusen/Ruben Scheire/Sanne Cant) 3:29

11 Poland (Marcin Karczynski/Marek Konwa/Maja Wloszczowska/Maciej Adamczyk) 3:51

12 United States Of America (Heather Irmiger/Russell Finsterwald/Colin Cares/Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski) 3:52

13 Slovakia (Peter Sagan/Daniel Hula/Janka Stevkova/Michal Lami) 4:16

14 Australia (Chris Jongewaard/Lachlan Norris/Michael Baker/Rowena Fry) 4:52

15 Austria (Hannes Metzler/Simon Scheiber/Maria Osl/Gregor Raggl) 4:57

16 Slovenia (Luka Mezgec/Urban Ferencak/Blaza Klemencic/Vid Tancer) 5:01

17 Russian Federation (Maxim Gogolev/Evgeniy Nikolaev/Irina Kalentieva/Ivan Smirnov) 6:18

18 New-Zealand (Michael Northcott/Nicola Leary/Brad Hudson/Ashley Hough) 7:57

19 Japan (Kohei Yamamoto/Seiya Hirano/Rie Katayama/Idomu Yamamoto) 9:19