The 2021 World Championships are underway, and for the first time since 2002, they take place on Belgian soil.
A raucous crowd in Flanders first cheered on home favourite Remco Evenepoel, who set the early benchmark in the men's elite time trial with a time of 48 minutes and 31 seconds. The 21-year-old’s time would stand for almost an hour, holding off the challenge of European Champion Stefan Küng, and Deceuninck Quick-Step teammate Kasper Asgreen, who finished just two seconds behind Evenepoel.
However, the race would be defined by a gargantuan duel between two heavyweights of the sport. Wout Van Aert and Filippo Ganna were the final two riders off the start ramp in Knokke-Heist. The second time split came around after 33km, and the two rivals were more than 30 seconds clear of anyone else, and separated by less than one second.
Van Aert, the runner-up last year when competing on Ganna’s home soil, was the first of the two to finish. He took 38 seconds off Evenepoel's long-standing time at the top of the standings, averaging an astonishing 54.257 kph over the 43.3km course.
It would be a brief wait for Van Aert, with Ganna starting just 90 seconds after him. The defending champion emptied the tank in the final 500 metres, before sitting up and punching the air as he crossed the finish line to defeat Van Aert by just 6 seconds. The Italian had averaged 54.37 kph — the fastest average speed ever recorded in a World Championships time trial — to retain the rainbow jersey.
Van Aert’s Silver Streak Continues
Wout Van Aert realises that he must settle for second place for a third time at the World Championships. (Image credit: Kristof Ramon - Pool/Getty Images)
Wout Van Aert’s runner-up place means the Belgian earns a third silver medal at the World Championships. Incredibly, he’s only participated in three World Championship events on the road, meaning he's finished second in every road World Championship race he has entered. Van Aert's versatility and consistency is clear to see, however, he may be getting a little fed up with the evasive nature of the rainbow jersey.
Fortunately, the upcoming road race provides a fresh opportunity to end the silver streak. With his fourth road event at the World Championships, can Wout Van Aert swap silver for gold?
The Van Aert-led Belgian squad are the heavy favourites to win the elite men's road race for the first time since Philippe Gilbert's explosive victory in 2012. When you also consider Remco Evenepoel's growing form, Belgium are undoubtedly the team to beat.
Ethan Hayter Demonstrates his Versatility
Ethan Hayter finished eighth in the time trial (Image credit: KURT DESPLENTER/BELGA/AFP via Getty Images)
We spoke of Ethan Hayter's growing prominence in our Tour of Britain debrief last week. The Brit won a stage of his home tour and was pipped to the overall title by Wout Van Aert on the final stage. Although a team time trial was pivotal in his good performance there, we haven’t seen Hayter time trial so capably over such a long distance before.
Hayter finished third at the Etoile de Bessèges time trial in February, before recording an admirable ninth at the Volta Algarve TT around Lagoa. Hayter was holding the race lead, but crashed on a descent. Despite the time he shed and grazes he accumulated, he defended the lead of the race. However, those time trials occurred over 10km and 20km and featured hills. The long, flat 43.3km Flanders course, which seemingly better suits the large powerhouses, is a different beast.
Hayter averaged a phenomenal 52.77 kph to finish eighth, ahead of riders such as Edoardo Affini and Tadej Pogačar. With this performance, the 23-year-old has further cemented his status as one of the rising stars of the peloton.
Dan Bigham also recorded a respectable performance for Great Britain. Competing in his first World Championships, Bigham finished 16th place overall, ahead of multiple WorldTour riders such as former U23 World Champion Mikkel Bjerg and Michał Kwiatkowski.
Tony Martin’s Send Off
Four-time World Champion Tony Martin finished sixth in his final World Championship time trial (Image credit: Simon Wilkinson - Pool/Getty Images)
One of the great time trialists in recent times said goodbye to the World Championships in Flanders. Tony Martin won the World Championship time trial four times between 2011 and 2016. His four victories place him alongside Fabian Cancellara as the most decorated time trialist in World Championship history.
Since collecting his fourth rainbow jersey in Doha, Martin’s individual form has waned as he’s entered his mid-thirties — his only time trial wins since have come at his national championships, which he’s won a phenomenal ten times throughout his career. Instead, Martin has settled into his domestique role with Team Jumbo-Visma in the latter stages of his career.
In Flanders, Martin recorded an impressive sixth place — his best result at the World Championships since he last won in 2016. After the race, Martin reflected, “It was difficult for a few seconds when I was on the starting podium and heard the reaction of the people when my name was called. Then I could focus on the time trial again, but it was definitely an emotional day for me.”
Martin’s professional career will conclude with the mixed relay on Wednesday 22nd September.
Cover image: Simon Wilkinson - Pool/Getty Images