Stefan Küng had every reason to head into the time trial at the UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong with a degree of confidence. The Swiss rider had a course that suited, form, and the feeling that he had the measure of all the key favourites.
But there was one factor he hadn’t taken into account: Norway's Tobias Foss.
"I could cry, and not out of joy," Küng said matter-of-factly when asked how it felt to finish runner-up by three seconds.
"I've been circling around this big win for quite some time. I've been second, I've been third, I've been beaten by Remco [Evenepoel] a few times, by [Filippo] Ganna, by the other guys. I thought ‘I know how to beat them, I've beaten them all in the past – I just have to beat them all on the same day'.
"I made a list of the favourites this morning and I beat them all, but I didn't have Tobias in mind, who put in a great ride today. I did a very good time trial today, but he was stronger."
In Imola in 2020, Küng came third in the World Championships time trial. Come Flanders in 2021 he’d just won the European Championship so went in as one of the favourites, and seemed almost shell-shocked that it was a fifth place.
He said afterwards that he would have preferred a few more undulations and corners. This year in Wollongong he had them.
The 34.2 km elite time trial course covered two laps, each delivering some 30 corners, as it worked its way through the centre of the city out into its surrounds and then back for a smoother section along the coast. Small climbs delivered 312m of elevation gain.
"It’s a bit punchy, it's a bit left, right, a lot of changes of rhythm," said Küng in the post time trial media conference. "It suits me quite well. I preferred this year's course over last year's."
Küng had focussed his training on the efforts specifically required by the Australian circuit and said that after having "a really bad Tour de France" following a COVID-19 infection, he felt from his silver medal at European Championships that his form was coming along nicely.
"I was really confident going into today," he said. "I knew what I had to do, what had to be done, and the first lap felt like flying.
"For sure the second lap was a bit harder but when I heard the time split, that I was ahead on Remco and Ganna and [Tadej] Pogačar, I thought 'that is nice, let's keep it in the flow'. I think Tobias surprised us all today."
So what does Küng do now? Exactly what he has done the other times where the top step has eluded him.
"I have to accept it and keep on working," said the 28-year-old Groupama-FDJ rider. "Keep on fighting. One day I hope it will turn my way."
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Simone joined the team as Production Editor based in Australia at the start of the 2021 season, having previously worked as Australian Editor at Ella CyclingTips and as a correspondent for Reuters and Bloomberg.