The elite women will contest the individual time trial at the 2018 UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck on Tuesday. The Netherlands will field the team to beat with defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen, Ellen van Dijk and Lucinda Brand.
The women will race 27.8km from Hall-Wattens to Innsbruck. The route is entirely flat for the first 10km to Baumkirchen before kicking up over the short climb. The second half of the circuit is hillier with a climb up to Absam at roughly 18km, followed by a descent and then a rolling section before a fast run-in to the finish line.
Van Vleuten won the individual time trial title in Bergen last year and lines up as the defending champion in Innsbruck. She is the overwhelming favourite to repeat as champion, having won time trials at the Women's Herald Sun Tour, Emakumeen Bira, Giro Rosa, and in two stages at the Boels Ladies Tour. As the number one rider in the world, she's also a top contender for the road race, but gives equal value to both races.
"Most people think that the road race is more important, but I would really like to win the time trial again. It's an important jersey," Van Vleuten said. "You don't get to wear it everyday like the road race, but it's still a very special jersey to say that you won the time trial."
Her Dutch teammates, however, shouldn't be overlooked as contenders because any one of them are capable of securing the rainbow jersey.
Van der Breggen has won the time trial and team time trial stages at the Healthy Ageing Tour with Boels Dolmans earlier this year, along with the team time trial again at PostNord Vargarda.
Van der Breggen, and Van Dijk and Brand competed with their respective teams in the team time trial on Sunday, where Boels Dolmans secured the silver medal and Sunweb the bronze.
Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews that she wished there was an extra day to recover before the individual event on Tuesday, but that she would make the best of her one day of rest ahead of her quest to secure the world title.
"I don't like that there is only one day in between the team time trial and the individual time trial," she said. "For total recovery, you need at least two days. Every year, it's like this, the women only have one day to recover, and the men have two days. I can't complain about it anymore.
"For me, it is not a question of whether I do the team time trial or not – I can't say no, and I don't want to say no because this is what I want to do with the team.
"I have to recover now, and I have to make the best of it," she said.
Although the Dutch have the strongest team, Van der Breggen acknowledged that there would be competition coming from other nations. Former champions Lisa Brennauer (Germany) and Amber Neben (USA) will be racing, as will Elisa Longo Borghini and Elena Pirrone (both Italy) and Audrey Cordon-Ragot (France).
Asked who she felt her biggest competitors were, she said "My Dutch teammates, all of them. There are many others, too."
And despite having a strong team, she said realistically of the time trial event, "I'll be alone. I have to do the course alone and go as fast as possible. Maybe, maybe, one day it will be fast enough [to win the world title]."
Van der Breggen's teammate Van Dijk won the world title in Florence in 2013. This season she won the Dutch time trial championships and then defended her title at the European Championships.
"I last won the time trial world championships a long time ago, and so it's about time I win it again," Van Dijk told Cyclingnews.
"I try every year, and I have been close a couple of times. It's not going to be easy, but it never is at the World Championships. I will do my best but the competition is high and of course, Annemiek is a big favourite to win, but I am going to give it my all and see what the results are going to be.
"The latest results in the Boels Ladies Tour show that Annemiek was in the best shape," she added. "I won Nationals and the European Championships, and those are good for my confidence, but it doesn't tell us everything about Tuesday. It will be a completely different race and a different course, but I am for sure one of the competitors, as are all of the orange girls."
Van Dijk previewed the course earlier this season at a training camp with the Dutch national team that includes Van der Breggen, and both riders like the circuit.
"It is a challenging course, not boring as it is always either up or down," Van Dijk said. "There aren't any real technical parts, but there are some corners and bad road surfaces. You need to have full focus all the time, as always in a time trial, but maybe a little extra is needed for this one."
Van der Breggen and the road race
Van der Breggen dominated the racing scene over the last two seasons. Just this spring, she won Strade Bianche, Tour of Flanders, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Durango-Emakumeen.
As far as time trials go, she won the stage at the Healthy Ageing Tour and was second to Van Vleuten in the time trial stage at Emakumeen Bira.
She won the Women's WorldTour last year, and was among the best riders in the world ranking, but after winning her second Giro Rosa, decided that she needed to make significant changes to her training and racing program. She chose to skip Tour of California and Giro Rosa this year, and instead added more one-day races to her calendar. She also added in a few mountain bike races, including the World Cup in Val di Sole.
She told Cyclingnews in June that she needed to change up her program to keep her motivated. It was to be in top shape at the World Championships in Innsbruck because both the time trial and road race courses suited her characteristics.
She reiterated her reason for reducing her racing program to mainly one-day races, saying, "I changed my program because I like to change things, and not do the same thing every year.
"When I feel the motivation is less, I don't do it because I need to be motivated. That's why I changed my program this year, a bit, and put in some mountain biking."
Van der Breggen said that she is also aiming to win a world title in the road race on Saturday, where she will line up with an eight-rider team that also includes Van Dijk, Van Vleuten, Brand, Amy Pieters, Sabrina Stultiens, Janneke Ensing and defending champion Chantal Blaak.
The women will compete over a 156.2km course that includes one long loop (84.7km) followed by three short laps in Innsbruck. The race starts in Kufstein and race over the Gnadenwald climb on the large circuit, before tackling three climbs through Igls as part of the shorter loops.
"Every year Worlds is my big goal, and I think that's the same for everyone," Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews. "Again, this year, as in every year, Worlds is a big goal and I will try to be on my best."