Seeking a fifth successive gold in the event, Britain threatened their own world record in the second round on day two in Saint-Quentin-En-Yvelines, near Paris.
The quartet of Katie Archibald, Elinor Barker, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell did so again in the final of the four-women, four-kilometre event, but Australia went even quicker to take gold in a new world record time.
Britain clocked four minutes 16.702 seconds, but Australia’s Annette Edmondson, Ashlee Ankudinoff, Amy Cure and Melissa Hoskins finished in 4mins 13.683secs, bettering the world record mark Britain set at altitude in Mexico in December 2013.
The 2016 Track World Championships are the last major event before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and take place in London, with Britain determined to reclaim the rainbow jerseys.
Rowsell said: “Definitely better to lose this year than next year. I was thinking on the podium, ‘Enjoy that while it lasts, girls, it’s only going to last a year’.”
Trott, a four-time world champion and previously unbeaten in the event, added: “It’s disappointing. We are used to being on the top step so it was a different feeling. But we rode a PB, quicker than we’ve ever been before at sea level, and for us that is a massive step.
“It also shows we have work to do. You have to have four girls going good on the same day. And they did.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worrying, it’s a year and a half until the big target in Rio. As long as we keep moving forward, I guess that’s all we can ask for.”
Britain had won six of the prior seven team pursuit world titles on offer in the women’s discipline, which in 2014 was contested with four riders over 4km for the first time.
The exception was 2010, when Australia won and Britain claimed silver, but since a Track World Cup loss in Colombia in December 2010 Britain had swept all before them.
The British strategy to use Rowsell up early – she sat up at half-distance and admitted afterwards it was “high risk” – did not pay off as Trott, Barker and Archibald were unable to reel in their rivals.
It was the trio’s first defeat at a World Championships.
Trott had won the event in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, Barker in 2013 and 2014 and Archibald in 2014.
Rowsell was in the team in Copenhagen five years ago and believes positives came from the loss.
The 26-year-old said: “That was just over two years out from London. At the time it was the best thing that could have happened to us.
“I think there was maybe a bit of complacency in the squad at the time and getting that silver in 2010 we completely changed our training as a team.
“Since the 4k team pursuit has come in we’ve been very dominant and it’s not been easy but from the outside it looks like we’ve won easily all the time.
“(Australia’s time of) 4:13 is way ahead of where we predicted anyone would be at this stage of the Olympic cycle. Yes there is work to do but I think it’s a good position to be in. Maybe we won’t be as complacent going into next season now, we are hungry and we don’t want silver again.”
Meanwhile, three-time Olympic champion Jason Kenny is considering piling on the kilograms to aid his bid for glory at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
The 26-year-old from Bolton exited the men’s Keirin on day two of the championships, admitting that his bigger rivals had more power.
Kenny, Olympic sprint champion in London and twice team sprint gold medallist, has worked hard to gain muscle mass in recent years, but still weighs in at 81kg.
His rivals are considerably bigger and similar in size to Sir Chris Hoy, the now-retired Olympic Keirin champion, who was 94kg at his ideal race weight.
“I just don’t seem to have the horse-power against the big guys,” said Kenny, who has two world titles, in the 2011 sprint and 2013 Keirin.
“It’s something we need to look at potentially, in the Keirin.”