• Filippo Ganna scorched to the win on the opening stage of the Giro d'Italia. (AFP)Source: AFP
The world championships are set to crown the best man against the clock in the world, with many of the top favourites in the discipline about the fight it out over a course for the pure exponents of the race against the clock.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

18 Sep - 9:30 AM  UPDATED 18 Sep - 9:31 AM

A flat course from the coastal start of Knokke-Heist to the finish in Bruges will be the setting to decide who will wear the rainbow bands in time trials for the next year of competition in the elite men’s race. The 43.3 kilometre course is flat the whole way, with little in the way of elevation change throughout.

Without the reigning Olympic champion, Primož Roglič (Slovenia), at the start ramp, there will still be a strong group of contenders looking to secure the win in Belgium.

Watch all the action from the 2021 UCI Road World Championships on SBS VICELAND and SBS OnDemand from September 19-26! The Elite Men's time trial will be shown on Sunday, September 19 from 2210 AEST on SBS OnDemand. 

Filippo Ganna (Italy)

Ganna is the defending world champion and on top form would certainly be the man to beat on this course. The Italian star wasn’t best suited to the Olympics course, a hilly affair that played into the powerful riders who also pack a good climb.

He then showed his power in the team pursuit where he led Italy to gold and transitioned back to the road. His second at the European championships was just eight seconds behind Stefan Küng, but the big Italian wasn’t satisfied.

“I did my best, but it wasn't enough,” said the man from Piedmont. “I realised the sensations weren't good ever since I started rolling on the reels. In any case, a gold and a silver after two days is not a small return.”

The big question will be whether Ganna has the energy after a busy season to beat the best in the world, he already has 63 race days, plus the Olympics preparations, and he hopes to go on to the UCI track world championships later in October. What is certain is that lack of motivation isn’t an issue.

"I'm still hungry, even after the Olympic gold medal, because I'm never satisfied,” said Ganna. “I always want to improve myself."

Stefan Küng (Switzerland)

The man who beat Ganna at the recent European Championships is another rider eyeing revenge on a more suitable course than the Tokyo offering. The Swiss rider is rarely far off the mark of the best in the race against the clock, he has won three time trials this season, and finished on the podium on three other occasions.

He was eight seconds better than the two-time world champion on a very similar course, albeit half the length, in Trento, he will be hoping that form holds to the finish in Bruges.

"It’s nice to have the [European Champions] jersey, but my big goal is to have a different jersey on the 19th of September in Bruges,” said Küng. “That’s my big goal that I’m working to since Tokyo."

Wout van Aert (Belgium)

The Belgians bring a strong roster to compete across all events at their home world championships around Flanders. The time trial is no exception, and leading the way will be an in-form Wout van Aert, a rider with a claim to being the best all-rounder in the world at present.

Putting aside his feats as a sprinter, climber and classics rider, van Aert is certainly also one of the best time-triallists in the world. He’s pursued a bit of a pared back road schedule compared to some of the other top riders, and goes in as the favourite for the road race, and perhaps also to complete a famous double in the time trial and road race, the first man since Spaniard Abraham Olano, who won the time trial in 1998, three years after winning the road race.

"Maybe the road race is a little bit more important. I prepared myself more specifically for the road race. It's important to make choices every now and then," van Aert said ahead of the time trial.

"But of course I am in very good shape, so I will also start on Sunday with first place in mind. Becoming world time trial champion is on my list. I was already able to win this year in the Tour, the World Championships is even more prestigious."

Remco Evenepoel (Belgium)

It’s hard to imagine Evenepoel as not being a major contender for this title for the next ten years, but this year’s course is as unfriendly as possible for the 21-year-old to claim his maiden elite world title. Even a semblance of a hill would give the power-to-weight ratio of the young phenom a chance to shine, but instead, it’s a course that suits the bigger men.

He was still on the podium over a similar but shorter course at the European championships, and is looking forward to racing in front of a home crowd.

“There is not much to enjoy in a time trial," said Evenepoel. "Of course, it is always special to race in our own country. That makes a World Championships even more important. It will be a unique experience.

“It is possible to be too enthusiastic. That was the case with me in Trento, so it will be important to drive a smart time trial.

"You have to ride at a very fast pace from start to finish and make sure you don't explode, in order to accelerate even more at the end. It's a nice course, mentally it's going to be a difficult time trial because it's straight all the time and you can't rest your legs.

"Dealing with the wind will be difficult. It will be a matter of accepting how it blows. It's nice that the course is a bit longer than at the European Championships. The men who can drive very fast for a long time will be happy with this course."

Other contenders

Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) is in a similar boat to Evenepoel, he would have preferred some hills out on the course, but is still very adept over the flat routes, as he proved at the Tour de France. He’s recently engaged to long-term partner and fellow pro cyclist, Urška Žigart, and appears to be winding down his season, but he’s still one of the best bike riders in the world.

Stefan Bissegger (Switzerland) was fourth at the European championships and the flat course should suit the Swiss powerhouse. He’s emerged as one of the best against the clock this year, but it would be another step for the 23-year-old to win against this quality field, even on a favourable course.

The same goes for Eduardo Affini (Italy), the powerfully built Italian could probably rival Ganna for pure watts and the flat course suits him down to the ground. He’s still a bit behind the level of his top-tier rivals judging from his past form, but like Bissegger, he’s rarely going to get a flat TT like this, so it presents a great opportunity.

Remi Cavagna (France) had a rare off day at the European Championships, he’d be higher on this list otherwise, but it’s hard to see him turning around over a minute’s deficit there to a longer course at worlds.

There will be no Australians in competition in the elite men’s or women’s time trials, with Rohan Dennis opting to finish his season early and other contenders Grace Brown and Sarah Gigante out with injury and illness respectively. Luke Plapp and Carter Turnbull will represent Australia in the Under 23 men's time trial. 

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Watch all the action from the 2021 UCI Road World Championships on SBS VICELAND and SBS OnDemand from September 19-26! The Elite Men's time trial will be shown on Sunday, September 19 from 2210 AEST on SBS OnDemand.