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2021 UCI Road World Championships: 5 riders to watch in elite men's time trial

Filippo Ganna of Italy (Ineos Grenadiers) will defend his world title in the time trial in Flanders
Filippo Ganna of Italy (Ineos Grenadiers) will defend his world title in the time trial in Flanders (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The elite men's time trial opens the 2021 UCI Road World Championships on Sunday as part of a new programme for the full week of world title racing in Belgium.  

The time trials all begin on the Flemish coast in Knokke-Heist and end inland in Bruges. The men cover a flat and fast 43.3km course that includes a loop around the countryside north of Bruges before passing over the historic canals of the city centre. The finish is just out of town in the huge Het Zand square that once hosted the bus parking for the Tour of Flanders.  

We are expecting Filippo Ganna (Italy), Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) and Stefan Küng (Switzerland) to fight for the rainbow jersey and medals.  

Other possible medalist and outsiders include Kasper Asgreen and Mikkel Bjerg (Denmark), Rémi Cavagna (France), João Almeida (Portugal), Brandon McNulty (USA), Stefan Bissigger (Switzerland), Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) and Ethan Hayter (Great Britain).

Tokyo Olympic Games gold medalist Primož Roglič (Slovenia) has decided not to ride the time trial after his recent huge effort to win the Vuelta a España, while Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) is out after recently fracturing his wrist after being hit by a car.

Strangely, Australia has not selected riders for the men’s time trial and so Rohan Dennis and Luke Durbridge will not be in action on Sunday.

To learn more about the UCI Road World Championships, check out the Cyclingnews preview and for details of each national squad, study our 'State of the Nation' features.  

These are our big five riders to watch on Sunday.

Filippo Ganna (Italy)

Age: 25

Best Worlds time trial result: 1st in 2020

The powerful Italian earns top spot in our top five contenders list because he is the defending world champion after his victory in Imola last year.

25-year-old Ganna has worn the rainbow stripes with pride during the season, winning four time trials, including the opening and closing stages at the Giro d’Italia. He also anchored the Italian team in the Team Pursuit on the track, producing an incredible turn of speed in the final laps to help Italy defeat Denmark for the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Ganna finished fifth in the Olympic time trial but the climb in Tokyo made it hard for any rider of his build to take on Roglič. The Flanders course is far better suited to Ganna’s pure time triallist qualities and huge power.  

Ganna was beaten by Küng in Trento in the time trial at the recent European Road Championships but that was soon after his spell at altitude, with the World Championships his biggest goal and peak of the final months of the 2021 road season.

Ganna will not ride the road race with Italy but has been added to the Mixed Team Relay squad, giving him a great chance of a second medal next Wednesday.  

Wout van Aert (Belgium)

Belgiums Wout van Aert competes in the mens cycling road individual time trial during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Fuji International Speedway in Oyama Japan on July 28 2021 Photo by Greg Baker AFP Photo by GREG BAKERAFP via Getty Images

Wout van Aert finished second in the time trial at the Tokyo Olympic Games (Image credit: Getty Images)

Age: 27

Best Worlds time trial result: 2nd in 2020

The Belgian has been named as the leader of the road race squad as expected, but he also hopes to win the time trial on Sunday to set up a shot at a rare double world title, all on home roads.

Fortunately Van Aert appears able to handle expectation with ease and showed he is in superb form by winning four stages and the overall classification at the Tour of Britain.  

Van Aert has been locked in a career-long battle with Mathieu van der Poel for the crown of the most versatile and most successful rider in the sport but now appears to be more resilient than his Dutch rival and more of a complete road rider.

He won three stages at the Tour de France: in the mountains, the time trial and then the final sprint stage on the Champs Élysées, and then finished second in the Olympic road race. He was sixth in the time trial but that was only four days after his huge effort in the road race.  

Van Aert is fresh and on form for the World Championships after a long training camp at altitude in the Alps. He opted to ride the Tour of Britain instead of the Benelux Tour to stay at altitude longer and race until close to the World Championships. He turned 27 on Wednesday and appears ready for a week of celebrations in Flanders.

Remco Evenepoel (Belgium)

HARROGATE ENGLAND SEPTEMBER 25 Remco Evenepoel of Belgium during the 92nd UCI Road World Championships 2019 Individual Time Trial Men Elite a 54km race from Northhallerton to Harrogate 121m ITT Yorkshire2019 Yorkshire2019 on September 25 2019 in Harrogate England Photo by Justin SetterfieldGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Age: 21

Best Worlds time trial result: 2nd in 2019

The boy wonder of Belgian cycling seemed to be struggling a month ago after first quitting the Giro d’Italia and then disappointing at the Tokyo Olympics. He seemed unlikely to be selected for the World Championships and Deceuninck-QuickStep team manager Patrick Lefevere said his prodigy had no goals for the rest of the season.

However, Evenepeol found extra motivation and new verve from that inferred criticism and began to rebuild his form by winning the Tour of Denmark in early August.  

He has not stopped since and won a series of other races to secure a place in the Belgian team before heading to the recent European Road Championships.

He won bronze in the time trial behind Ganna and Küng, and silver in the road race behind Sonny Colbrelli, but was impressive in both events and headed home to Belgium still hungry for success.

He was also second in the Yorkshire World Championships two years ago and won the rainbow jersey as a junior in 2018: career projections rarely lie.  

Evenepoel tries to combine his innate ambition, ability and aerodynamics to beat the bigger, more powerful riders like Küng and Ganna in time trials. He will be boosted by the expectations of racing in Flanders rather than slowed by any pressure. 

Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia)

Tour de France 2021 108th Edition 20th stage Libourne Saint Emilion 308 km 17072021 Tadej Pogacar SLO UAE Team Emirates photo Dario BelingheriBettiniPhoto2021

Tadej Pogačar in the maillot jaune during the stage 20 time trial at the 2021 Tour de France (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Age: 22

Best Worlds time trial result: N/A

The double Tour de France winner may not be at his best after a gradual return to racing in decent weeks but his incredible time trial win at La Planches des Belles Filles to win the 2020 Tour de France can never be forgotten and means Pogačar has a chance of a medal in Bruges.

Pogačar is not a pure time triallist and was only 12th in the time trial at the European Road Championships last week but he has the ability to ride at over 50 kph and win, as he proved with victory in the stage 5 time trial at this year’s Tour de France.

He beat Küng by 17 seconds and Van Aert by 30 seconds over a distance of 27.2 kilometres that rainy day in Laval. Rain is expected for Sunday and so that could tip the 43.3km race in his favour. 

Stefan Küng (Switzerland)

LAVAL ESPACE MAYENNE FRANCE JUNE 30 Stefan Kng of Switzerland and Team Groupama FDJ at arrival during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Stage 5 a 272km Individual Time Trial stage from Chang to Laval Espace Mayenne 90m ITT LeTour TDF2021 on June 30 2021 in Laval Espace Mayenne France Photo by Christophe PetitTesson PoolGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Age: 27

Best Worlds time trial result: 3rd in 2020

Often the bridesmaid in the sport’s biggest time trials, 27-year-old Küng seems to have stepped up a level in 2021.

Ganna was upset to lose the European time trial title to Küng but the Groupama-FDJ rider simply out-powered him on the flat, out-and-back course south of Trento, deserving to wear the distinctive white, blue and gold-starred jersey for a second year.

Küng doesn’t have the aura or attract the attention as do Ganna or Van Aert but he has the time trial ability to match and to beat them.

Sunday’s 43.3km ride between Knokke-Heist and Bruges could be his moment of world champion’s consecration.