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The 2018 Road World Championships are well underway in Innsbruck, Austria. We had the team time trials last weekend, and most of the individual time trials are already complete. On Wednesday though, it’s time for the final time trial of the meet; that of the elite men.
Ahead of the event, we’ve taken a look at the course and the contenders. As you’ll read, the rainbow bands are likely to go to one of two riders. But then again, there’s no such thing as a certainty in bike racing …
At 52.5km in length, the elite men’s ITT course is the longest Worlds time trial for a few years (since Richmond in 2015). It’s a mostly flat affair for the first 30km, after which the riders will face a tough 5km climb that averages 7.1% and maxes out at 14%. From the top of that climb it’s most of 10km downhill before a rolling final 7km.
Before considering the riders that are in with a shot at victory, it’s worth noting which riders won’t be in attendance on Wednesday. There are some big names among the absentees, not least those who finished second and third in last year’s event.
Giro d’Italia winner Chris Froome (third last year) and Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas are both somewhat surprising omissions, given the course appears to suit them well. But it’s not just the time trial they’re missing — both riders are sitting out Worlds entirely, citing fatigue and the need to be at peak form to have a chance in Innsbruck.
Last year’s runner-up Primoz Roglic has also opted to sit out the time trial, instead throwing everything at his preparation for Sunday’s road race. It’s an interesting decision given his prowess against the clock, but one that shows how seriously he’s taking the road race (which he’s a genuine chance to win).
With Froome, Thomas and Roglic missing from the startlist it does open things up somewhat for the rest of the field. In reality though, the battle for the rainbow bands is likely to come down to just two riders: Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb/Netherlands) and Rohan Dennis (BMC/Australia).
Assuming no mishaps or major surprises, Dumoulin and Dennis should end up on the final podium come Wednesday evening, Innsbruck time. Both excel against the clock, both will be untroubled by the 5km climb in the back half of the course, and both have the potential to walk away victorious.
So who wins in a head-to-head between Dumoulin and Dennis? To answer that question, it’s worth looking at previous encounters between the two:
– Dumoulin and Dennis have faced one another in 26 individual time trials throughout their careers.
– Dumoulin has finished ahead of Dennis on 14 of those 26 occasions — 54% of the time.
– Of the 26 ITTs they both contested, Dumoulin has won six and Dennis has won six.
– The pair have clashed in three ITTs this year.
– Of those three, Dennis won two (stage 4 of the Abu Dhabi Tour and stage 16 of the Giro) and Dumoulin won one (the Giro prologue).
In short, the pair are quite closely matched. Dumoulin will start as the favourite, having won 12 months earlier on an arguably tougher course in Bergen, Norway. Dennis finished eighth that day, 1:37 behind Dumoulin, but lost much of that time because of a crash (he was 10 seconds off the lead halfway through the course). Plus, Dennis has been the better performer against the clock this year with six ITT wins to Dumoulin’s two.
In essence, it would be little surprise to see either Dennis or Dumoulin in rainbows by day’s end.
The other contenders
Of course, bike races aren’t decided by who’s done well in the past or even who’s the best rider on paper. Any number of factors can influence the result on the day, from a crash, to changing wind conditions, to confidence, to illness …
While it’s hard to see anyone beating Dumoulin and Dennis if everything goes to plan, the podium is very much in reach for a whole host of riders. Here are a selection of such challengers:
Tony Martin (Germany/Katusha-Alpecin)
As a four-time world time trial champion, ‘Der Panzerwagen’ needs to be respected in any TT he enters. His best years are probably behind him, but you need only look to stage 16 of this year’s Giro to see that he’s still around the mark. He finished second that day, behind Dennis but ahead of Dumoulin.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland/Sky)
‘Kwiato’ has never won a time trial that Dumoulin has taken part in but why not start with the biggest TT of the year? The Pole is very strong against the clock, can clearly climb, and certainly knows how to perform under pressure in the world’s biggest races. The podium is certainly a realistic goal, assuming Kwiato goes all in and isn’t saving himself for Sunday’s road race.
Jonathan Castroviejo (Spain/Sky)
Castroviejo is a four-time Spanish time trial champion and has three ITT podium finishes to his name in 2018 (besides his national title). A similar result on Wednesday would be little surprise for the 31-year-old who rode so strongly for Thomas and Froome at this year’s Tour.
Vasil Kiryienka (Belarus/Sky)
Kiryienka was a surprise winner of the 2015 Worlds time trial but it was far less surprising when he reached the top five the following two years (including second in 2016). Kiryienka’s 2018 results sheet doesn’t make for spectacular reading — in fairness, he spends most of his year riding the front of the bunch for his teammates — but expect him to pull out another strong ride on Wednesday if he’s committed to a good result.
Nelson Oliveira (Portugal/Movistar)
It hasn’t been the most illustrious season for the four-time Portuguese champ either, but the same could be said of 2017 when Oliveira finished fourth in the Worlds ITT. If he’s on a good day, he could threaten the podium.
Ryan Mullen (Ireland/Trek-Segafredo)
The Irish time trial champion took a comfortable win in the Vuelta a San Juan TT early in the season. Admittedly, that was against a far weaker field than he’ll face at Worlds, but he was fifth at the Doha Worlds two years ago and, on a good day, is a threat. That 5km climb will pose his biggest challenge.
Victor Campenaerts (Belgium/Lotto Soudal)
The two-time reigning European TT champion was third in the prologue at the recent Vuelta a España and has been around the mark in a handful of other time trials this season. Shouldn’t be underestimated.
Jos van Emden (Netherlands/LottoNL-Jumbo)
For such a strong time trialist, van Emden has ridden surprisingly few Worlds ITTs. On his day he’s capable of a big result, as seen on the final day of last year’s Giro when he took the win, beating Dumoulin, Kiryienka and many more.
Being a key event at the Road World Championships, the elite men’s ITT is being broadcast live around the world. Australian viewers can stream the race live from 10pm AEST on the SBS Cycling Central website or via the SBS On Demand.
The Olympic Channel will have the broadcast in the US while the BBC will have it in the UK. For full broadcast details around the world, check out this handy guide from the UCI.
For markets without a live TV or streaming broadcast, you can catch the race live at the UCI’s YouTube channel.
For those following along on Twitter, the official hashtag for Worlds 2018 is the rather cumbersome #InnsbruckTirol2018.
Who’s your pick to win the elite men’s time trial at the 2018 Road World Championships?