In Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel, the host nation have two bona fide contenders for Sunday’s elite men’s time trial at the World Championships, but there are two other riders above them in the favourite stakes, according to the Belgian national team manager.
Sven Vanthourenhout, who is leading Belgium into the Worlds for the first time since taking over the post from Rik Verbrugghe, identified reigning world champion Filippo Ganna (Italy) and newly-crowned European champion Stefan Küng (Switzerland) as major hurdles between his own pair and the rainbow skinsuit.
"You have Küng and Ganna as top favourites, then immediately below them you have Wout and Remco," Vanthourenhout told Cyclingnews after a recon of the 43.3km course on Saturday morning.
"I don’t expect big differences between them. They're all going to have a good pace plan, I think, and every one of them is in good shape - that’s clear. Ganna is the current world champion and Küng, especially after the European Championships, has the confidence to do really well here, so for me he’s also the big favourite. It’s going to be an honest race and a nice battle between the best guys."
Vanthourenhout insisted that Van Aert and Evenepoel were both "on the same level" in terms of the favourite stakes, but also suggested the course and conditions might give Van Aert the edge.
Sunday’s race will see riders covering 43.3km from Knokke-Heist to Bruges, with just 78 metres of elevation gain making it a near-pan-flat profile that should suit the more powerful builds. Van Aert, a spring Classics and cyclo-cross specialist, is said to weigh in at more than 75kg, while Evenepoel, a Grand Tour hopeful, is little more than 60kg.
"On paper, it’s more difficult for Remco because his weight is very low, especially when compared to Ganna, Küng, and Wout," Vanthourenhout said.
"But aerodynamically, Remco is really perfect. He’s very compact on the bike, and his frontal area is really low. That’s a good point for him."
In that respect, the conditions may not be primed for Evenepoel to make the most of that advantage. The event organisers’ description of the route makes reference to "trees that have grown diagonally" due to the area's strong winds, but forecasts for Sunday afternoon predict only a tame breeze of 10-15km/h from the east/north-east, giving the bigger frames relatively little resistance.
"It’s not windy tomorrow but on the coast it’s always blowing, so from the moment you start in Knokke you’re going to feel the wind," Vanthourenhout said. "In the end, I don’t think the wind will be the difference on the day, but I’m sure Remco will still battle with the bigger boys."
As for Van Aert, there are few doubts. The Belgian road race champion won the penultimate-day time trial at the Tour de France and, despite only managing sixth at the Olympic time trial in Tokyo, proved he is ready for Worlds with four stage wins and the overall title at the recent Tour of Britain.
"Every course is a course for Wout," Vanthourenhout said. "He didn’t do the European Championships TT but when you look at his results from the Tour of Britain, you see he is automatically one of the favourites.
"For me, Wout and Remco are on the same level. One is better on one point, the other is better on a different point. For me, they’re both going to battle for the podium."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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