Time trials are widely thought of as the race of truth – just a rider against time, with the strongest coming out on top. However, there’s a lot more to the discipline than just power numbers: aerodynamics and technical ability also play a huge factor in determining who wins gold at the end of the race. This will be especially true at the 2022 Road World Championships in Wollongong, where the elite men's and women's categories face a tricky and technical circuit that will see a well-rounded and skillful rider take victory.
Like in the men’s race, the elite women will take on two laps of a 16.8 kilometre course in Wollongong on the September 18, amounting to a total distance of 34.2 kilometres. It’s a lap which is heavy with corners, and features a small climb up Mount Ousley Road. This isn’t as intense as the steep inclines on Mount Pleasant that the peloton will tackle in the road race, but it could still test the legs if the riders are close to their limit.
There are a number of riders who could contest for victory in the elite women’s event, with newly crowned European Time Trial Champion Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) sitting at the top of the pile. There are also plenty who will want to challenge her though, especially those in clad in the bright orange of the Netherlands. They bring a strong team including Tour de France Femmes winner Annemiek van Vleuten – we can expect to see at least one Dutch rider on the podium. Time trials can often throw up surprises, though, and the long travel to Australia could impact some of the key contenders.
With this in mind, here are the top contenders to take the rainbow jersey in the women’s elite individual time trial at the 2022 UCI Road World Championships.
Annemiek van Vleuten
Winner of the inaugural Tour de France Femmes and current Olympic time trial champion, Annemiek van Vleuten, is one of the hot favourites to take victory in Wollongong. When she won in Tokyo, the Dutch rider finished almost one minute ahead of Marlen Reusser in second place with a dominating ride. She’s proved this season that her form is better than ever, winning all three ‘grand tours’: the Giro d’Italia Donne, Tour de France Femmes and the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta. While none of these included a long time trial similar to the one we will see at the World Championships, this still is a clear indicator that the 39-year-old is the strongest rider in the peloton at the moment.
Image: Alex Broadway/SWpix
The course at the Wollongong World Championships isn’t especially suited to Van Vlueten, however, and she would have hoped for some longer, tougher mountains to really set herself apart from the rest of the field. Her descending and technical ability isn’t something that Van Vleuten is known to be especially skilled at, and this time trial will require adept bike handling skills. The fact that Van Vleuten hasn’t competed in a time trial of this distance at all this season could also be a factor in her performance – perhaps she won’t be as comfortable or dialled in her position. However, realistically, Van Vleuten should never be underestimated and has proven on multiple occasions that she knows how to target a big event – she will be tough to beat at this World Championships.
A latecomer to the sport, Switzerland’s Marlen Reusser has been going from strength to strength with each season she’s spent in the Women’s WorldTour. In 2020, Reusser surprised many people with a silver medal at the World Championship Time Trial and asserted herself as one to closely watch in future events against the clock. Since then, the 30-year-old has consistently backed up that performance – she was second again at the World Championships in 2021 and won a silver medal in the Olympics that year, plus she is the current European champion time trial in the discipline after beating Ellen van Dijk by six seconds in Germany a few months ago.
Image: Alex Broadway/SWpix
Unlike Van Vleuten, Reusser is a powerhouse who will relish the flatter terrain that awaits in Australia. She proved at the European Championships that she can ride an incredibly technically sophisticated time trial, and is confident staying in her race position on trick sections of the course. Reusser did have a crash at the Tour de France Femmes a few months ago which may have affected her preparation for this race, though, so it will be interesting to see how she performs.
Ellen van Dijk
Ellen van Dijk is a name that has become synonymous with time trialling over the last decade. Two-time world champion and five-time European champion in the discipline, as well as the current Hour Record Holder, Van Dijk has a decorated history of performing well against the clock. Although she narrowly missed out to Reusser at the European Championships earlier this season, defending world champion Van Dijk should not be counted out for victory Down Under. Such a wealth of experience means that the Dutchwoman is able to keep a cool head when the pressure is on, and the amount of time that Van Dijk has spent in the wind tunnel dialling her position this season ahead of her Hour Record attempt will surely be an asset to her in Australia.Image: Alex Broadway/SWpix
It would be fair to say that Van Dijk isn’t as reliable as she once was to take the gold medal, and this is a testament to the growing strength in depth in women’s cycling. There are more riders who now have the support to seriously target time trials, and Annemiek van Vleuten had just recovered from a bad crash when Van Dijk got the better of her at last year’s World Championships. This year’s course in Wollongong is certainly weighted in favour of Van Dijk – she can perform well technically but also put out big power on the long straights in between the corners, this is where she will be able to gain time on the likes of Van Vleuten who is more suited to the longer climbs.
A win for Grace Brown would delight the home crowd in Wollongong – Brown is one of Australia’s main hopes to take a medal in this World Championships. This could be either in the road race or the individual time trial as Brown has performed well in both disciplines so far this season. Her win in the Commonwealth Games individual time trial was a clear indicator that Brown has placed some focus on time trialling this season, as well as a warning sign to her competitors that she means business when it comes to racing against the clock. While the Australian doesn’t have a huge list of time trial results to reel off, her trademark solo attacks in races show that she can pace and execute a long solo effort well, aware of her limits and when she should push them.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Brown finished fourth in the Olympic Games ITT last year, proving that she can compete among the best in the world. The course in Wollongong is more suited to Brown than the one in Tokyo and it helps that she will be on her home roads with the added motivation of the crowd cheering her name. The 30-year-old will start this World Championships fresh off a stage win in Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, which is going to give her extra confidence and is also confirmation that her form has built nicely towards the backend of the season. It’s going to be a tall order for Brown to beat the likes of Reusser, Van Dijk and Van Vlueten, but there is certainly a chance she could fight for a medal position, especially with the added drive of it being a home World Championships.
Team USA’s Kristen Faulkner is a dark horse for this year’s time trial World Championships. She doesn’t have the experience or palmarès of some of her competitors, but Faulkner has repeatedly proved that this isn’t a barrier to performance. She’s had two big time trial wins this year, the first of which was in the Tour de Suisse where she won stage two’s 25 kilometre test against the clock. The second victory came a few weeks later at the Women’s WorldTour race, Giro d’Italia Donne, where she won the prologue in Cagliari. Although this was a short time trial (Faulkner’s winning time was just under six minutes), it still proves that the American is competitive against a world class field when it comes to individual efforts.
Image: Getty images/Dario Belingheri
Faulkner’s last race was the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta which she did leave early due to struggling with “consecutive days of intensity” according to her Instagram post. Faulkner stated that she would rest and recover before the World Championships which are “luckily only one day events”. It will be interesting to see how some respite will help Faulkner to get back on track with her form, and she’ll be looking at the time trial as the event to target at this World Championships.
Cover image: Alex Broadway/SWpix