On Sunday 19th September, the world’s best male cyclists will take to the roads of Flanders compete in a race against the clock. The individual time trial is arguably the truest method of determining the strongest rider in the simplest way. The stakes are rarely higher than at the World Championships, where the chance to wear the iconic rainbow jersey for the following year is up for grabs.
It’s not just about power and strength though. In recent years, the ITT has become a sort of arms race, with equipment becoming lighter, more specialist and more expensive as technology has advanced. Each rider will be on a quest to have the most aerodynamic setup, the saving of one or two watts could be the difference between a gold and silver medal.
Technical ability also plays a big factor in each rider’s bid for glory. Often tricky descents can be difficult to manoeuvre in race position, so quick decisions have to be made on whether to remain in the tri bars or switch to the side bars to take each corner. Of course, limits have to be pushed to get the fastest time – every second counts and each rider is treading a fine line between risk and reward.
In 2021, the UCI Individual Time Trial World Championships will take place in Flanders on a flat and fast course. All of the best time trialists in the world will be in attendance to fight for those rainbow bands, including defending champion Filippo Ganna.
The men will cover a distance of 43.3 kilometers starting from the North Sea in Knokke-Heist. After 1.5km on the coast, the route will turn inland and wind towards the finish in Bruges. Unsurprisingly for the Belgian coast, the route is almost entirely flat with a meagre elevation gain of 78m.
That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, though. The coastal winds could play a huge factor with flat, exposed sections being the perfect setting for strong headwinds or crosswinds, depending on the day. Riders will likely be bringing their biggest chainrings for the course — it is suited to those who can put down huge power. Weight won’t be such a factor here and the course could, in fact, favour the slightly heavier rider.
Passing mainly through fields and along canals, there aren't many technical corners to navigate and riders should be able to remain in their most aerodynamic positions for the majority of their race. Pacing is going to be paramount, riders must be careful not to be deceived by the flat parcours and manage their efforts well.
Fresh off his third Vuelta a España win, Primož Roglič was one of the hot favourites to claim the stripy jersey this year, but announced last week that he would not be racing — with Pogačar instead representing Slovenia. Roglič won the ITT in the Olympic Games by over one minute ahead of his closest competitor, a performance which was incredibly dominating.Image: Getty
Olympic champion in the Team Pursuit, Filippo Ganna could rival Roglič, the pan flat course is very well-suited to the Italian who won both Individual Time Trial stages in the Giro d’Italia this year. If Roglič is showing any fatigue from his exploits in Spain, Ganna is sure to be hot on his heels.
Ganna’s teammate at Ineos Grenadiers, Rohan Dennis, could also challenge for the top spot. Dennis won the ITT world championships in both 2018 and 2019 and proved he was returning to his best with a bronze medal in Tokyo a few weeks ago. Dennis knows how to peak for important events and will no doubt have planned his rising form with the World Championships in mind.
Image: Michael Steele/Getty Images
The Belgian team will no doubt hope to perform well in their home championships and they have two big contenders for the individual time trial with Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel. Wout van Aert stands out as the most likely of the two to get on the podium – he has been in stellar form all season, winning three stages at the Tour de France including the ITT on stage 20. Evenepoel hasn’t had the same results, returning from injury this season. Still, he should not be underestimated and still secured a top 10 at the Olympics.
Danish National Champion Kasper Asgreen finished second to Van Aert in the ITT at the Tour de France and has shown his ability to time trial well on multiple occasions. His long solo breakaways also show his talent for riding strongly alone. Image: Anton Vos/Cor Vos/SWpix
Swiss national champion Stefan Kung finished 4th at the Olympics and is another rider who could perform well on the flat Belgian roads. He recently won the European Time Trial Championships ahead of both Ganna and Evenepoel, so is certainly a contender for the top spot.
Brandon McNulty, Stefan Bissegger, Max Walscheid and Remi Cavagna are also contenders for a podium spot.
We predict that Wout van Aert will use the home advantage to his favour to win the Individual Time Trial at the World Championships in 2021. He has shown his ability to perform against the clock in the Tour de France this year and still finished 6th at the Olympics despite stating his fatigue before the event.
He will have had some time to rest and rebuild up to the World Championships and will be familiar with the course since it is in Belgium, where he lives for most of the year. A home crowd will also give him that extra ounce of motivation.
Cover image: Russ Ellis