Preview: The men’s Worlds time trial is a case of Dumoulin vs Froome

by Matt de Neef

The 2017 Road World Championships are underway in Bergen, Norway, and already the teams time trials and some of the individual time trials have been decided. The elite men’s ITT is scheduled for this Wednesday and with an unusual course on the menu, it’s sure to be quite the spectacle.

The race is shaping up to be a battle between this season’s Grand Tour winners, Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin, but could there be other riders in the frame? The following preview will help get you up to speed ahead of Wednesday’s race.

The course

At just 31km long, the elite men’s time trial course is quite short by World Championship standards. But in this case shorter doesn’t mean easier — the final 3.4km of the route is all uphill and at a gradient of nearly 10% …

The course consists of three sections: a 15km lap around Bergen (the course used by the junior women and U23 men); a truncated second lap of 12.5km; and then the final climb, to the top of Mount Fløyen.

It’s a reasonably lumpy course even before the final climb, but it will be that ascent of Mount Fløyen that decides the race. It’s a challenging climb, with at least a third of it over 10% gradient. It flattens off towards the top, but the damage will be done by that point.

With such a steep conclusion, it’s likely we’ll see most riders changing bikes for the final ascent. In fact, there’s even a designated “Bicycle exchange zone” at the bottom of the climb for this very purpose. Is it worth the 5-10 seconds to swap out the TT rig for a lightweight climbing bike? Probably, but that’s a decision that each rider will have to make themselves.

How it might unfold

The inclusion of the final climb means this isn’t a normal World Championships time trial. The pure, powerhouse time trialists might set times for the first 28km, but the final climb will likely scupper their chances of wearing rainbows. Reigning world champion Tony Martin (Germany), for example, will almost certainly find the course too tough to secure a record-breaking fifth world title.

“The finale of the parcours of the individual time trial is way too hard for me,” Martin said earlier in the week. “I’ll be the outgoing world champion and so I’ll still give it everything and I’ll fight hard, but I know I’ve got very little chance of success.”

Instead it’s the riders that can both time trial and climb that will come to the fore on Wednesday. Riders that do well in Grand Tours, for instance.

A two-horse race?

A look at the race profile and the provisional start list suggests there are two main contenders for this year’s world ITT title: Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) and Chris Froome (Great Britain). Neither has won an individual world title at senior level and this might be their best chance of doing so.

As mentioned, the profile suits riders that have that impressive combination of time trialling power and climbing strength, something both Dumoulin and Froome certainly do.

Dumoulin won the Giro d’Italia this year off the back of two stomping time trial performances. Chris Froome won the Tour de France in similar fashion, and later won the Vuelta a España time trial to further extend his lead in that race. Both riders have also won on a Grand Tour summit finish in 2017 (Dumoulin on stage 14 of the Giro; Froome on stage 9 of the Vuelta).

Froome brings good TT form into Worlds after winning the Vuelta ITT on his way to winning the overall.

Froome brings the more impressive recent form into Worlds, having won the Tour and the Vuelta, the latter of those less than a fortnight ago. Fatigue could theoretically be an issue, but for an effort that should take much less than an hour, it’s hard to see Froome being too badly affected.

Dumoulin hasn’t raced a Grand Tour since he won the Giro, but his recent form has been good too. He won the BinckBank Tour last month and just Sunday piloted Sunweb to a teams time trial world title (Froome’s Team Sky was third).

It’s worth considering past performances when analysing the Froome vs Dumoulin battle. Due to different race schedules, the pair haven’t competed in the same individual time trial in 2017. Their last ITT head-to-head was at the Rio Olympics in August last year where Dumoulin was second and Froome was third. On that occasion just 15 seconds separated the pair over the 1 hour 13 minute effort — a difference of just 0.3%!

Their previous encounter was in the 2016 Tour de France’s two individual time trials. Dumoulin won stage 13, with Froome in second. Froome won stage 18, with Dumoulin in second. The stage 18 effort was almost all uphill; stage 13 featured plenty of climbing too, including a 3km climb to finish (although not as steep as in Bergen).

Dumoulin’s time trialling helped him to victory at the Giro in May.

In short, the pair are very evenly matched and it should be a tight contest for the gold medal.

The battle for the podium

All things being equal, and if Froome and Dumoulin put in the rides they’re capable of, they should occupy the top two spots on the podium. The battle for third place, though, is a lot less clear. There are a few riders that stand out as having a good chance of claiming the bronze medal.

Former Dutch ITT champ Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) rode a very impressive Vuelta a España, finishing fourth overall, just 24 seconds off the podium. More importantly, Kelderman was second in the Vuelta ITT behind Froome, and he climbed well throughout the race. It’s possible we could see two Dutch riders on the podium come Wednesday.

Kelderman had an impressive Vuelta ITT on his way to fourth overall.

The man who kept Kelderman off the Vuelta podium was two-time Russian ITT champion Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), an accomplished rider against the clock and uphill. He’s sporting some impressive form and wouldn’t be a surprise podium finisher.

Slovenian Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) is another rider that could potentially land in third place. The former ski jumper is capable of results on the big stage — he won a mountain stage of this year’s Tour (albeit from the breakaway) and he won a time trial at last year’s Giro d’Italia. It might just be a question of form — Roglic has been a little off the boil in ITTs this year.

Australia’s only participant in the time trial, Rohan Dennis, could also feature at the pointy end on Wednesday. The two-time Australian ITT champ is in the process of transitioning from TT specialist to GC rider and is strong both against the clock and uphill. He’s still a stronger time-triallist than climber — this season he’s won ITTs at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Suisse (where we won both time trials) — but his climbing is improving.

Dennis is unlikely to be able to match Froome and Dumoulin on the final climb, but he’s certainly capable of riding his way onto the podium.

Rohan Dennis is the reigning Australian ITT champ.

For other would-be podium finishers consider: two-time Polish TT champion Michal Kwiatkowski, who finished second in the stage 20 ITT at the Tour de France; three-time Luxembourg champion Bob Jungels, who was third in a Giro d’Italia TT this season and who’s climbing is improving; and possibly even Tejay van Garderen (USA), who was third in the Tour de Romandie ITT earlier this season, ahead of Froome, Zakarin and Kelderman (Dumoulin wasn’t in attendance).

Watching the coverage

The 2017 Road World Championships are being broadcast live around the world, both on TV and online. The UCI has published a handy list of each nation’s broadcaster — check it out to see where you can catch coverage in your neck of the woods.

Australian viewers should note that while the elite men’s time trial won’t be live on SBS TV, it will be streamed live the SBS OnDemand digital platform from 9pm AEST on Wednesday evening.

For countries that won’t have a live TV broadcast of the World Championships, you’ll be able to stream the elite men’s ITT (and all other events) live via the UCI’s YouTube channel.

If you’re following the racing on Twitter, the hashtag you’ll need is #Bergen2017.

Who’s your pick for the elite men’s ITT at the 2017 Road World Championships?

Follow the link for a startlist for the elite men’s individual time trial at the 2017 Road World Championships. Stay posted to CyclingTips for a preview of the elite men’s road race, and to Ella CyclingTips for a preview of the elite women’s individual time trial and road race.

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