The elite male road riders complete their time at the UCI World Championships in Scotland with Friday’s individual time trial. As usual, there’s a formidable line-up of specialists against clock, as well as a number of the incredible all-rounders, due to take that start.
They’ll face a long 47.8km time trial out and back from the city of Stirling. Most of the course will suit the real powerhouses with some long straights, rolling hills, and very few technical corners. The biggest challenge comes at the end when the riders face a short but sharp cobbled ascent to Stirling Castle. If anyone paces their ride poorly, this will be where they could lose decisive seconds in the race for the podium.
Here are the top contenders for the 2023 Road World Championships elite men’s time trial.
Filippo Ganna (Italy)
The two-time world champion will want to correct his performance from last year’s Worlds, in which he missed out on his hattrick win after finishing a surprisingly low seventh. Ganna has already shown he’s back to somewhere near his best, winning the individual pursuit title on the track already this week.
The course should be well suited to the Italian too, with plenty of opportunity to showcase his pure power on the straight flats and with a climb short enough to pose little trouble for him. Without a doubt a strong favourite for a third rainbow jersey.
Wout van Aert (Belgium)
There’s something about the Road World Championships and Wout van Aert. It’s a nut he just can’t crack, both in the road race and the time trial. After another second place in the road race last Sunday, the Belgian national champion will be desperate to finally move onto the top step in the time trial. He’s come close in his only two attempts so far, in 2020 and 2021 losing out to Filippo Ganna, and the Stirling course presents another excellent opportunity for him to win.
A hillier and perhaps more technical course would hand him an advantage over many of the others here (as he showed on the time trial course at this year’s Tour de France). But Van Aert is a rider of extraordinary talent and has more than enough to win the rainbow jersey here, and possibly deserves it too.
Remco Evenepoel (Belgium)
The former road race champion surprised everyone when was able to beat Ganna into second at the 2019 Worlds at the age of just 19. Evenepoel has been unable to better that result since then, but in his two subsequent appearances he’s finished third both times.
Having triumphed in both time trials in the Giro d’Italia earlier this year (including one in which he had Covid-19), Evenepoel hasn’t quite demonstrated the same form since. He narrowly lost the Tour de Suisse time trial on his return to racing from illness, and then crashed during the Belgian National Championships time trial to finish fourth. His form is somewhat difficult to ascertain ahead of the Worlds because of that, but a Remco Evenepoel in full flight is absolutely capable of victory on a power-course such as this.
Stefan Küng (Switzerland)
Switzerland bring an exceptionally strong duo to the World Championships time trial, and the course suits both Stefan Bissegger and Stefan Küng, champions in the Mixed Relay earlier this week.
Küng edges it given his record, having finished second last year and already having won two time trials this season, including beating Evenepoel in the Tour de Suisse. He’s a two-time European champion to boot.
The overall flat nature of the course should play much more to his strengths, having struggled with the hilly course (and the accumulated fatigue) of the Tour’s time trial. But overall Küng has been in excellent form this year against the clock, while his improved climbing has seen him flourish in the Classics in the past two years and should make the final climb to the finish less of an issue if he’s held something back.
Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia)
On paper, the 47.8km course does not look like one that should suit the two-time Tour champion Tadej Pogačar. Outside of National Championships, his only time trial successes have come in the midst of the Tour when he will be at peak form, and one of those was the mountain TT to Planche des Belles Filles.
The length of the course may play into the Slovenian’s favour somewhat, as will the final ascent, but for once Pogačar enters a race as an outsider. While you can never discount him, a victory feels like a big reach considering the competition. An improvement on his best result of sixth is definitely attainable, while a podium finish would round off a successful Worlds for Pogačar.
Geraint Thomas (Great Britain)
For a time trial rider as strong as Geraint Thomas has proven to be over his long career, it’s surprising he’s only opted to race the World Championships once so far. On that occasion, in Imola in 2020, he finished just off the podium in fourth, and has the potential to better that result on home roads this year.
It’ll be a tough ask; Thomas possibly doesn’t have the pure power to compete with the likes of Ganna, Van Aert, and Küng on the flats, but the 37-year-old is an extremely experienced and adept time trialist who knows how to pace his effort.
Like Evenepoel, Thomas is preparing for a GC tilt at the Vuelta a España later this month, so hope some of the form he’s built in training for that can come in use here. The Welshman is capable of a victory at his very best, but a podium finish would be a hugely successful result for a rider who has rarely shown himself properly at the Road World Championships.
It’d be remiss of us not to mention the defending champion Tobias Foss (Norway), who has clearly demonstrated he has the ability to compete and win at this level. He’s not quite shown his top form in the time trials he ridden so far this year, but considering how much of a surprise his victory in Australia was last year, he could spring another one in Stirling on Friday.
French champion Rémi Cavagna is a rider with the ability to make the podium at the World Championships, but his relative inconsistency from race to race makes him hard to predict.
The retiring Rohan Dennis (Australia) will be in attendance, but hasn’t seemed at full power since the start of the year at the Tour Down Under. He’s not raced since the Tour de Suisse, but the two-time world champion shouldn't be underestimated.
Last year's junior world champion Josh Tarling will make his debut in the elite category for GB, and the 19-year-old has shown he is talented enough to ride into a top-10 position in this company.
Mikkel Bjerg and Kasper Asgreen look like a strong pair of options for Denmark, while Mattia Cattaneo (Italy) is another potential medallist for Italy. Joāo Almeida (Portugal) and Brandon McNulty (USA) are other possible outsiders for the podium too.
We think Wout van Aert will win his first World Championships time trial title.