Two-horse races? Top contenders for Worlds elite time trials

The elite time trials are looking like the least open events of the 2018 UCI Road World Championships. On both the men's and women's sides it's difficult to escape the feeling that there are two big favourites followed by a supporting cast ostensibly fighting for bronze.

Still, the World Championships have the potential to throw up a surprise - even in the so-called 'race of truth'.

The women's time trial takes place on Tuesday on a 27.8km course from Hall-Wattens to Innsbruck, with a fairly flat opening 15km before a climb to Absam, and rolling terrain thereafter. The men's race on Wednesday is nearly twice as long, at 52.5km, and is flat for 30km before a rather more serious 5km climb and then a lengthy descent down to the final part of the course.

Cyclingnews takes a look at the two favourites for each event, and those who might provide an upset.

Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands)

The 2017 world champion was a convincing winner 12 months ago and will once again be the favourite to take the gold medal and spend another season in the rainbow skinsuit.

Dumoulin has had an outstanding 2018 season. Though he failed to win a Grand Tour, to finish runner-up at both the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France is some achievement. He has gone from limiting his losses in the mountains to being right up there day-in day-out with the best climbers in the world, and what's more, he seems to have done it without blunting his time trialling capabilities, with two big wins this year at the Giro and Tour.

Dumoulin thrives on rolling terrain, and while the 52.5km Innsbruck course is more a case of a flat opening half followed by a difficult 5km climb and then descent, it's still a course on which he should thrive. No one who could go faster on the flatter section should be able to outclimb him, while no one who could do the climb quicker should be able to go faster on the flat.

The only question mark seems to surround Dumoulin's form. He hasn't had too many race days this season but it has been a heavy load, with back-to-back Grand Tour attempts at the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France. After the Tour he admitted to feeling like a zombie, and he has only made one appearance since, finishing fourth at the Deutschland Tour. While Rohan Dennis has made a convincing case with two wins at the recent Vuelta a España, Dumoulin is a little harder to read. It's difficult to say whether the freshness will help Dumoulin or the lack or racing will hinder him. If he has got himself back into top shape, however, it's clear he will be very difficult to beat.

Annemiek Van Vleuten (Netherlands)

In Annemiek Van Vleuten, the Netherlands have arguably a bigger favourite on the women's side. Like Dumoulin, she won the title in Bergen 12 months ago and it would come as little surprise to see a 'double Dutch double'.

Van Vleuten has been utterly dominant in the rainbow skinsuit in what has been an incredible 2018 season for the 35-year-old. Of the six individual time trials she has ridden this season, she has won five - at the Herald Sun Tour, Emakumeen Bira, the Giro d'Italia, and two at the Boels Ladies Tour. The only one she didn't win was at the Dutch national championships, where her fourth place indicated that if it's not her on the top step of the podium in Innsbruck it might just be one of her compatriots.

Van Vleuten turns 36 in two weeks' time but she's showing no sign of slowing down - quite the opposite, in fact. In the past couple of seasons her career has taken off to a point where she is widely considered the best rider in the world. This year she has won three of the biggest events in women's cycling in La Course, the Giro, and the Boels Ladies Tour - the latter two with three stages wins along the way.

The Boels Ladies Tour at the start of this month was her last outing before Worlds, so there are no grounds to doubt her form, while the versatility she has shown this season suggest the undulating course will suit her down to the ground. Can anyone stop Annemiek van Vleuten?

Rohan Dennis (Australia)

Will this finally be Rohan Dennis' year? The Australian has won time trials and worn leaders jerseys in all three Grand Tours but finds himself in the strongest position yet to finally claim a first major title against the clock.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Australian has never medalled at the elite Worlds but that can largely be explained away by bad luck. After an encouraging first couple of appearances - 12th in Florence in 2013 and 5th in Ponferrada in 2014 - and victory on the opening stage of the Tour de France that year, Dennis went into Richmond 2015 as one of the favourites, but a puncture with 25km to go consigned him to sixth place. At the Olympic Games in 2016 his aero bars broke and he finished 5th, while at the Worlds later that year he admitted he was running on fumes at the end of a long season and could only manage 6th place again. Last year in Bergen, having set the second fastest times at the first two checkpoints, he slipped out in the wet and finished eighth.

He has hardly put a foot wrong against the clock this season, winning the Australian title then at the Abu Dhabi Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico, the Giro d'Italia, and two at the Vuelta a España. Apart from the unusually hilly time trials at the Tour de Romandie, his only defeat came at the hands of Dumoulin on the opening day of the Giro, though he did exact revenge in the longer time trial later in the race. At the Vuelta he was untouchable, winning the short opening stage before taking the longer stage 16 by some 50 seconds over a decent field of time triallists.

As he showed in the Vuelta - and with his transition to GC contender - Dennis will be able to handle the undulations of the Innsbruck course and could push Dumoulin right to the wire. In fact, you could argue he's the slight favourite, given his preparation. While Dumoulin went deep in his Giro-Tour double bid, Dennis has had these Worlds in mind since the start of the season and was able to re-set after the Giro and build up through the Vuelta a España in August and September. His decision to quit the race immediately after winning stage 16 may not have gone down well with Spanish fans but it did suggest that Dennis is walking a well-mapped path and is exactly where he needs to be.

Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands)

It's difficult to see past Van Vleuten for the women's title but if there's anyone who can do it it's Anna van der Breggen. The Dutchwoman is the rider who can lay the strongest counter-argument to Van Vleuten being the top rider in the world, with wins at Strade Bianche, the Tour of Flanders, La Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège this season alone.

Those results may hint at more of a one-day specialisation, and the Olympic Champion will surely fancy her chances in the road race on Saturday, but she is still a top time triallist.

At the Bergen Worlds last year she finished runner-up behind Van Vleuten, repeating the silver medal she won on a similarly undulating course in Richmond in 2015. She was eighth but some way off the race in Doha in 2016 but the pan-flat nature of the course didn't play to her strengths. This year she has finished runner-up behind Ellen Van Dijk but ahead of Van Vleuten at the Dutch nationals, while at the Boels Ladies Tour earlier this month she was second and third behind Van Vleuten in the two time trial stages.

The Innsbruck course looks like it will give her the edge over the pure power riders like Van Dijk, with a flat, fast start followed by a climb towards Absam and then rolling terrain the final third. Few will be betting against Van Vleuten but Van der Breggen will be right up there and could well make it a Dutch one-two.

The outsiders

The men's time trial is being billed as something of a two-horse race. Dumoulin is odds-on with most bookmakers, while Dennis is not much better than evens. Beyond them there is no one closer than 16/1. 2015 champion Vasil Kiryienka (Belarus) is fancied by some, based more on past Worlds performances rather than current form.

Jonathan Castroviejo (Spain) is out for a medal and might just be the favourite behind Dumoulin and Dennis. The Spaniard can climb - as he proved riding up mountains for Team Sky at the Tour de France - and while he's not the heaviest, he is surely the most aero, which should bring its benefits over 52.5km. Still, he lost some 50 seconds to Dennis at the recent Vuelta time trial.

Tony Martin is a four-time world champion but his dominance has waned in recent years, partly as a result of adjusting his position. The German has won at his national championships in the past two years but otherwise hasn't won against the clock since his last world title in Qatar in 2016. There was a glimmer of hope at the Giro, where he was sandwiched between Dennis and Dumoulin on stage 16, but the climb ought to scupper his chances.

Stefan Kung (Switzerland) and Bob Jungels (Luxembourg) are certainly ones to watch, while Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) might be more fancied were his main focus not Sunday's road race. Other outsiders include Victor Campenaerts (Belgium), Nelson Oliveira (Portugal), Soren Kragh Andersen (Denmark), and Joey Rosskopf (USA).

On the women's side, everyone's talking about a Dutch one-two, but it could end up being a clean orange sweep of the podium. Ellen Van DIjk is the current Dutch champion and a former world champion and can never be counted out, even if the Innsbruck course looks a little too hilly. Lucinda Brand was another who beat Van Vleuten at nationals and could also spring a surprise.

At 43, two-time world champion Amber Neben (USA) is still knocking around, earning her place thanks to victory at the Pan-American Games, after which she won the US national title. Lisa Brennauer (Germany), another former world champion, is perhaps a more reliable challenger for the podium.

Other outsiders include Taylor Wiles (USA), Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) , and Audrey Cordon-Ragot (France).


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