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

Netherlands' Annemiek Van Vleuten celebrates after winning the women's cycling road individual time trial during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Netherlands' Annemiek Van Vleuten celebrates after winning the women's cycling road individual time trial during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (Image credit: Getty Images)

There will be no defending champion participating in the elite women's time trial at the UCI Road World Championships held on September 20 in Belgium. Anna van der Breggen has chosen not to compete which leaves the chances of securing the rainbow jersey wide open for the other specialists in the race against the clock.

The elite women will race 30.3km and an elevation gain of 54 metres with a start at Knokke-Heist, upon the North Sea coast by the Dutch border, and a finish in the centre of the historic city of Bruges.

The out-right favourite will be Annemiek van Vleuten, who recently secured the gold medal in the discipline at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in July, but there are several other contenders to watch including Olympic silver medallist Marlen Reusser (Switzerland), who was second. in the event last year. 

There will be no Chloe Dygert (USA), who has ended her season early to continue recovering from the injuries sustained in a crash in the event at the Imola Worlds, nor Sarah Gigante and Grace Brown (Australia). 

The door is open for the return of veterans of the sport and former world champions Lisa Brennauer (Germany), Amber Neben (USA) and Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands) to claim the jersey once again.

Although perhaps not marked as the event favourites, there are some riders that are worth mentioning for the top-10, and who have shown strong performances at previous events: Leah Kirchmann (Canada), Lisa Klein (Germany) and gold medallist in the Olympic road race Anna Kiesenhofer (Austria) has been known for putting out a strong time trial performance.

Also, Joss Lowden, who made headlines in February when she unofficially broke the current hour record of 48.007km, held by Vittoria Bussi, in a training attempt, covering 48.160km. 

Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands)

Netherlands Annemiek Van Vleuten competes in the womens 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 Tim de Waele POOL AFP Photo by TIM DE WAELEPOOLAFP via Getty Images

Annemiek Van Vleuten competes in the individual time trial during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (Image credit: Getty Images)

Age: 38
Best Worlds time trial result: 1st in 2017 and 2018

A two-time world champion in 2017 and 2018, Annemiek van Vleuten has been one of the strongest time triallists in the world on a variety of terrain from prologues to mountainous time trials and on flat routes.

The Dutch have dominated the event winning three of the last four editions, and the only rider to interrupt their reign was Chloe Dygert (USA) in 2019. 

Van Vleuten has spent all season dialling in her position on her new Canyon time trial bike from her trade team Movistar, and she proved that she is back at the top of the discipline after winning the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo where she 22.1km hilly event by 56 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) and 1:02 ahead of defending world champion Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands).

Van der Breggen has chosen not to defend her title in the time trial, but the Dutch team will also field former world champion Ellen van Dijk and Riejanne Markus.

Marlen Reusser (Switzerland)

EDE NETHERLANDS AUGUST 24 Marlen Reusser of Switzerland and Ale Btc Ljubljana Team during the 23rd Simac Ladies Tour 2021 Prologue a 24km Individual Time Trial stage from Ede to Ede SLT2021 SimacDS UCIWWT on August 24 2021 in Ede Netherlands Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) (Image credit: Getty Images)

Age: 29
Best Worlds time trial result: 2nd in 2020

A revelation during the last two seasons, Reusser has risen to the occasion at the biggest races in the world. She has always been a powerful performer in the time trial and a multiple-time Swiss champion, but last year she secured the silver medal at the Imola World Championships, and this year she took the silver medal at the Olympic Games, and the gold medal at the European Championships

Reusser celebrates her 30th birthday on the day of the individual time trial, September 20, and said a victory would be extra special. However, there are no gifts in cycling and she will have to beat riders like Van Vleuten if she wants to win the world title.

She just might surprise the cycling world in Flanders, too, because she told Cyclingnews that even though she's had great performances in the event this year, she feels like she only just reaching her maximum fitness level now, just ahead of the World Championships.

Lisa Brennauer (Germany)

CASCATE DEL TOCE ITALY JULY 05 Lisa Brennauer of Germany and Ceratizit WNT Pro Cycling Team during the 32nd Giro dItalia Internazionale Femminile 2021 Stage 4 a 112km Individual Time Trial from Fondovalle to Cascate Del Toce 1714m ITT GiroDonne UCIWWT on July 05 2021 in Cascate Del Toce Italy Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Lisa Brennauer (Germany) (Image credit: Getty Images)

Age: 33
Best Worlds time trial result: 1st in 2014

Lisa Brennauer has a long and successful history in the time trial discipline. She won the individual time trial world title in 2014 and took bronze in 2015, and has secured three more world titles in the former trade team time trial in 2013-2015, along with a silver in 2016, and another silver in the new mixed team relay in 2019.

Although she was a favourite for the event at the Olympic Games, she ended up finishing sixth place at 1:57 behind Van Vleuten. The route was a much hillier affair than it will be in Flanders, however, and with only 54 metres of elevation, the flatter parcours is much more likely to suit a rider like Brennauer.

Brennauer will have also had a chance to preview the time trial route in Flanders, and will have studied any technical sections and areas where her power will play an into her advantage.

Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands)

Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands)

Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands) (Image credit: Getty Images)

Age: 34
Best Worlds time trial result: 1st in 2013

Never underestimate Ellen van Dijk in a time trial. She has been one of the best in the world for two decades, and winning the world title in 2013. She also secured the silver medal in 2016, and the bronze medals in 2018 and 2020.

Van Dijk has had a strong season, particularly in the time trials. She won the time trial stage and the overall title at the Healthy Ageing Tour, won the prologue and finished second overall at the Lotto Belgium Tour, was part of Trek-Segafredo's winning team time trial at the Giro d'Italia Donne, second in the prologue and third overall at Simac Ladies Tour and second, behind Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) in the time trial at the European Championships.

Van Dijk has shown that she is back at the top of her game in the discipline, and although her compatriot Van Vleuten is the outright favourite, watch for Van Dijk as the dark horse to win, and at the very least, on the podium for one of the medals.

Amber Neben (USA)

Amber Neben

Amber Neben (USA) (Image credit: Getty Images)

Age: 46
Best Worlds time trial result: 1st in 2008 and 2016

Amber Neben has also dominated the time trials for more than two decades winning two world titles in 2008 and 2016. At 46, Neben recently competed in her third Olympic Games where she finished place fifth behind gold medal winner Van Vleuten.

Neben was an automatic qualification for both the road race and the time trial at the World Championships, however, she declined the spot for the road race in order to allow another rider to compete on the team, and will focus solely on the time trial.

Neben's form heading into the event is unknown, however, as she is recovering from a fractured hip sustained in an incident on August 25, when a driver turned their vehicle into her path, causing a collision.

Neben arrived in Belgium this week and said she has been able to progress with her training, wisely, and feels confident that she has done all she can to perform at her best during these World Championships.

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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.