The Dutch have descended upon Harrogate as the most powerful national team in the 11 events that make up the 2019 UCI Road World Championships.
They are off to a winning start, and after securing the first rainbow jersey in the all-new team time trial mixed relay, their success is expected to continue in everything from the time trials to the road races.
"I think it's very special to be the new world champions," said Amy Pieters in the post-race press conference following the mixed relay win. "It was special to be able to win it with the men's team as well. If they organise something new and you can win it directly, then it's something that we can all be very proud of."
The team time trial mixed relay replaced the trade team trial this year. The event saw national teams competing, with two separate squads consisting of three male riders and three female riders. Each team completed one 14km lap in Harrogate for a total of 28km, and their combined times were taken to determine the winners.
The Dutch team came into the event as the favourites, having won the test event at the European Championships this summer. The team included Bauke Mollema, Jos van Emden and Koen Bouwman on the men's side, and Lucinda Brand, Amy Pieters and Riejanne Markus representing the women. They finished with the winning time of 38:27, beating Germany by 22 seconds and Great Britain by 51 seconds.
"I liked that we worked together. It was something new, and I think to be able to win the World Championships jersey is special," said Jos van Emden.
"Maybe the normal [trade] team time trial can sometimes be a little bit boring to watch. I'm a fan of the [trade] team time trial, so I hope it returns, but this was something new, and we had to try to push hard to be the world champions. That was nice, and I want to be a world champion more often."
The last trade team time trial was held at the previous year's World Championships in Innsbruck. Canyon-Sram and Quick-Step Floors won the elite women's and men's world titles, respectively. But the UCI announced it would change the format after pushback from trade teams who felt the event was too expensive and they had little financial support from the sport governing body.
Once the new national team mixed relay format was announced, however, some teams complained that the loss of the trade team event would affect sponsorship support. Also, some felt that it would cause a decline in team time trials throughout the season.
Amy Pieters, who was part of the Dutch team that won the European title his summer, said that she was pleasantly surprised at the outcome of the mixed relay. She noted that the cycling community enjoyed watching the new format live on TV and that there were positive comments.
Lucinda Brand didn't compete at the European Championships, and so the mixed relay in Yorkshire was her first experience with the new format. She has previously competed in the trade team time trial, where she won the world title with Sunweb in 2017. She also stood on the podium in the event on two other occasions in Richmond in 2015 and Florence in 2013.
"It was very different [from the trade team time trial] because we used to race with six riders, and so it's not comparable at all," Brand said. "I enjoyed it."
Brand said that there was no need for the men's and women's teams to train together, given that race separately, but she had an opportunity to train with Pieters and Markus.
"It's hard to get our schedules the same to train together," Brand said of the men's and women's teams. "I can't say that we did the same kind of preparation that we would have normally done with for the trade team time trial. Also, the selection was not known too hard in advance.
"We trained together, but we also know each other well. It's just a matter of getting used to the way we ride together, the way you get off the front and back onto the back [of the team time trial formation]. You need to get used to racing with just two others, instead of five, and that is a bit different.
The mixed relay didn't go off without a hiccup for the Dutch, however, as Mollema and Bouwman touched wheels during the race and nearly crashed.
Also, Brand said there were some problems with the lights used to start the women's teams. Rather than dropping a flag to indicate when the women's team could start, officials used traffic lights - red, orange and green. As soon as the men's team passed 200 metres to go, the light would turn from red to orange. When the second rider of the men's team crossed the finish line, the light would turn green, and the women were permitted to start.
"The start could be better," Brand said. "There was no light, or it wasn't visible, and in my opinion it was green already, but the flag was still up. I wanted to go, but they kept me back until the flag went up, so that was a bit unclear. There always things that aren't clear when it's something new. You need to start somewhere."
With a world title already secured on the first day of racing, the Dutch team head into the elite time trials, where Annemiek van Vleuten is a favourite to win a third consecutive world title. The elite women's team also have a shot at sweeping the podium, once again, with Anna van der Breggen and Brand.
They also head into next weekend's road races with Marianne Vos as the favourite to win the elite women's world title and Mathieu van der Poel a contender for the elite men's event.