Victor Campanaerts and Remco Evenepoel are two of the three top favourites for the worlds individual time-trial. This is a fact that makes me feel like I have been watching cycling forever. Tony Martin, Bradley Wiggins and Fabien Cancellara fighting for the win in Firenze is disappearing rapidly in the rear-view mirror and, though the suddenness of the change is amplified by Dumoulin’s inconvenient injury and Rohan Dennis’... issues, it does feel very strange to read an interview with Campanaerts saying that he hopes to beat a nineteen-year-old in the worlds ITT but he isn’t confident. Evenepoel’s transition to pro cycling has been better than I expected: even the most prodigious talents can have lean early years in a sport where the peak of an athlete’s career usually comes later than in many others. His results, winning the European TT championships, the Tour of Belgium and most impressive by far, the World Tour Clasica San Sebastian. Best of all, he’s on track to score more than a thousand VDS points. For a high-ranking, experienced rider that’s more than an acceptable return. For someone younger than practically all espoirs, it’s almost unbelievable.
Whatever strange road we took to this situation, Evenepoel is third-favourite with the bookies to wear the rainbow jersey. He would be by far the youngest men’s time-trial world champion and in fact the youngest men’s road world champion overall. Marianne Vos did however win the road race at a younger age in the women’s event.
That’s enough about Remco for the minute. We’ll look at his rivals after going over the terrain.
It is...how should I put this? It is perfect. Honestly, if I took a step back from the fact that I really enjoy time-trials with a load of climbing in them and said “how do I want to decide the best time-triallist in the world?” I would use Zwift, obviously. Not even a question. But a course like this comes a close second. It’s long at fifty-four kilometres but it’s doesn’t get long enough that it takes the piss. It (like Stuart O’Grady on a below-average night out) can just about be declared rolling, with a couple of short climbs to test the legs and few Qataresque stretches of total flat but it comes closer to being a power course than last year’s outing in Innsbruck or the one before in Bergen.
The weather will be, I suppose, what you would expect in a September race towards the north of England. It won’t be a washout but rain will be around. Wind will be a pretty negligible factor with only light breezes, into the faces of the riders for the first few kilometres and from the side thereafter. It will get a bit stronger for the late starters but only by two to three kilometres an hour so I don’t think there will be a whole lot of gamesmanship when it comes to the start times.
For the third-favourite, I’ve given Remco Evenepoel rather a lot of attention. I’m sure you’re all shocked. Time to look at the actual favourite though: defending champion Rohan Dennis. He hasn’t raced since his mid-Tour incident and apparently will not be using his Merida bike. Real sponsor’s dream, that guy. Merida are still going to pay to keep him employed next year, by the looks of things. Anyway, Dennis can’t use his machinery as an excuse so he’s sorted to storm to a huge victory, right? Maybe not. He hasn’t turned a competitive pedal in over two months and when you compare that to his preparation last year which we can fairly assume to be ideal for him in which he rode twenty-five racedays between the end of the Tour de France (which he did not start) and his win in Innsbruck it doesn’t look to be set up so well for him. Every year in this race, somebody surprises with an underperformance and it is possible that this year it will be Dennis.
Victor Campanaerts has never been someone I have believed could be world time-trial champion. All of a sudden, I now do. Partially it’s competitors dropping out but he has gradually pulled himself into the conversation for world’s best time-triallist. Holding the Hour Record, surprised as I was when he succeeded, plays a large role in that I suppose. He himself says that he’d be happy with a bronze medal, with Evenepoel his pick to win. Mind games? Not sure how those work in a time-trial, everyone is going to go out and give their all with only minimal concession to tactics so it’s just a curiosity. It will be interesting however who gets to start off last from the Belgian team.
The fourth favourite (and last that really matters, there’s a huge gap beneath) is Primoz Roglic. He’s just won the Vuelta after a long season. Good for a medal but not the win, I think.
Other assorted favourites include Kasper Asgreen, Tony Martin and Stefan Küng, but I don’t think they’ll threaten the top step. I’ll go for a podium of 1. Campanaerts 2. Evenepoel and 3. Dennis.