Tokyo Olympics: 7 riders to watch in the men's individual time trial

Dennis, Ganna, Van Aert Olympics TT
Rohan Dennis, Filippo Ganna, Wout van Aert are among the gold medal favourites in the ITT (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The men's time trial draws a close to the road racing events at the Tokyo Olympic Games on Wednesday, with 39 of the world's best time triallists all set to face off for gold on a hilly 42.2-kilometre course around the Fuji International Speedway.

Between 14:00 local time (07:00 CEST) and 16:10 (09:10 CEST), the likes of Filippo Ganna (Italy), Remco Evenepoel (Belgium), Wout van Aert (Belgium), Rohan Dennis (Australia), and Primož Roglič (Slovenia) will all be racing to win the gold medal that Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara won in Rio five years ago.

We've compiled a list of the seven men to watch during the race – the biggest favourites of the lot. But even beyond these men, there are a number of big names set to fight for the medals.

Kasper Asgreen (Denmark), Rémi Cavagna (France), Stefan Küng (Switzerland), Geraint Thomas (Great Britain), and João Almeida (Portugal) were among the honourable mentions.

We also have a full race preview available, as well as the full list of start times. Read on, though, to find out who are our seven riders to watch.

Wout van Aert (Belgium)

Belgiums Wout van Aert competes in the Mens Elite Individual Time Trial at the UCI 2020 Road World Championships in Imola EmiliaRomagna Italy on September 25 2020 Photo by Marco BERTORELLO AFP Photo by MARCO BERTORELLOAFP via Getty Images

Van Aert at the Imola Worlds where he finished second (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Belgian is the out-and-out favourite after a purple patch of form that has seen him take three stages at the Tour de France – one of which was a time trial – and second in the men's Olympic Games road race. Right now, there isn't a more versatile rider in the world, and since the 26-year-old recovered from the surgery he had in the spring, he has found his career-best form at the perfect time.

His win in the Saint-Emilion time trial at the Tour was a masterclass in racing against the clock and the Jumbo-Visma rider should have no problems with the profile of the course in Tokyo. The only small concerns are whether the road race efforts will have depleted his reserves and a tail-off in form is on the horizon.

Secondly, the calibre of time trial specialists in Tokyo is higher than the ones he competed against at the Tour, and riding a time trial after three weeks of racing is a different proposition when compared to a single one-day effort. That said, Van Aert is the man to beat.

Filippo Ganna (Italy)

IMOLA ITALY SEPTEMBER 25 Filippo Ganna of Italy during the 93rd UCI Road World Championships 2020 Men Elite Individual Time Trial a 317km race from Imola to Imola Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari ITT ImolaEr2020 Imola2020 on September 25 2020 in Imola Italy Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images

Filippo Ganna is the reigning world time trial champion (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Until this year's Tirreno-Adriatico, the Italian hadn't lost a time trial since January 2020 but a defeat at the hands of Wout van Aert finally ended his incredible run. Since then, the Ineos Grenadiers rider has won two and lost two against the clock, but his two victories in the Giro d'Italia time trials were timely reminders of his prowess in his favourite discipline.

Like Rohan Dennis, his entire season rests on victory at the Olympics, and his season has been shaped around claiming gold in Tokyo. The course is not pitch-perfect for the Italian, however, and some observers feel as though the 800-plus metres of elevation could swing the gold medal towards other riders.

Van Aert certainly has the skills to take gold, but Ganna is more than just a flat time trial specialist – with his climbing performances in last year's Giro a demonstration of his abilities. He may not naturally suit a course of this nature, but his preparation will be dialled in and on point.

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

Remco Evenepoel took silver at the 2019 Worlds in Harrogate (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The young Belgian was cast as a support rider for Wout van Aert in the men's road race and he looked efficient – if not spectacular – with a brief foray off the front in the last 50 kilometres. He heads into the individual time trial in fine fettle and with a realistic chance of helping Belgium to two medals, even with an elite start list to contend with.  

Second in the Worlds two years ago on a demanding course, and a former European champion, Evenepoel knows how to show up for the big occasions, while the centerpiece to his summer has been built around Tokyo. With Van Aert also hogging most of the attention and focus, Evenepoel can also head into the race with slightly less pressure on his shoulders.

Brandon McNulty (United States of America)

IMOLA ITALY SEPTEMBER 25 Brandon Mcnulty of The United States during the 93rd UCI Road World Championships 2020 Men Elite Individual Time Trial a 317km race from Imola to Imola Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari ITT ImolaEr2020 Imola2020 on September 25 2020 in Imola Italy Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images

Brandon McNulty in action at the Imola Worlds (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Lawson Craddock deserves a mention, but it's Brandon McNulty who makes our list after his storming ride in the men's road race. He was one of just two other riders who could live with Tadej Pogačar's initial pace on the penultimate climb, but for a brief moment of weakness, the American would have surely taken at least a silver.

Sixth place was still a remarkable result for a rider with limited one-day experience, but the time trial offers the 23-year-old another chance to capitalize on his current condition and make an impression on the leaderboard.

The UAE Team Emirates all-rounder isn't quite in the conversation for a gold medal – there are too many specialists on show – but a top-five place and a push for bronze are achievable if the American, who won the 2016 Junior World ITT crown, has another impressive day and one of the pre-race favourites falters.

Primož Roglič (Slovenia)

Primož Roglič was a silver medallist at the 2017 Worlds in Bergen (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Roglič's one-day record in time trials isn't as impressive as his pedigree against the clock in stage races, with second place in the Bergen Worlds behind Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) his only stand-out result. That said, the Slovenian comes into this year's Olympics as something of a dark horse for a medal.

His preparation has been far from ideal, with a crash in July taking him out of the Tour and leaving him with severe road rash and bruises. Saturday's road race demonstrated that he's still in possession of some form, but the lack of racing, coupled with the fact that he wasn't able to follow the main contenders on Saturday, leaves enough question marks over the 31-year-old's chances to suggest that he might struggle to live with the pace of Van Aert and others.

If he is at his best, however, then even talk of gold is realistic. The course looks perfect for Roglič, with flat sections punctuated by punchy climbs and technical descents. It all depends on whether he's in sparkling form or not.

Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands)

Dutch Tom Dumoulin pictured in action during the men elite individual time trial 317km at the UCI Road World Cycling Championships Friday 25 September 2020 in Imola ItalyBELGA PHOTO ERIC LALMAND Photo by ERIC LALMANDBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images

Tom Dumoulin in action at the 2019 Worlds (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Silver in Rio five years ago, Dumoulin heads into Tokyo a completely different rider to the one that was beaten to the top step by Fabian Cancellara in 2016. After taking a much-needed break from the sport at the start of the year, the 30-year-old returned at the Tour de Suisse where his natural ability carried him to fifth in the individual test.

He backed that up with a well-deserved time trial win at the Dutch National Championships before riding as a domestique in Saturday's men's road race in Tokyo. Where Dumoulin stands in comparison to the rest of the riders on this list is something of a mystery. If he were firing on all cylinders then the former Giro d'Italia winner would be in the conversation with Wout van Aert, Filippo Ganna and Rohan Dennis for gold, but the time off leaves the Dutchman flying under the radar.

That could be the perfect position for him, as it alleviates pressure and allows the Jumbo-Visma man to focus on his effort without distractions. For the neutrals, however, just seeing Dumoulin back on a start line is a victory in itself, while claiming a medal of any kind would be one of the heart-warming stories of this year's Games.

Rohan Dennis (Australia)

Australia's Rohan Dennis en route to defending his elite men's time trial title at the 2019 UCI Road World Championships

Rohan Dennis took his second world time trial title in 2019 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Five years after a mechanical cruelly robbed Rohan Dennis of a medal in Rio, the Australian returns to the Olympic Games looking for revenge. His form is something of an unknown given that his race programme has been altered in the last few months with the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France scratched from his provisional programme.

That said, Dennis is somewhat of a master of devoting his entire existence to a single goal, and his win at the Worlds in 2019 illustrated that the 31-year-old doesn't need stacks of road racing miles in his legs if he is to find his best form.

This is without question the most important time trial of his career, and with a course that suits his style and qualities as a rider, he should feature on the podium. In his mind, though, anything but gold would represent a failure. On a pan-flat course, Ganna would probably have the edge, but the six climbs dotted throughout the Tokyo course edge Dennis ahead in the battle of the Ineos Grenadiers riders.

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Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.