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Rohan Dennis goes into Wednesday’s World Championships time trial as the defending champ and, realistically, the rider to beat. But it’s been far from a smooth run-in for the enigmatic Australian, who left the Tour de France in mysterious circumstances and hasn’t raced since.
In the past two seasons Dennis has raced the Vuelta in the lead-up to Worlds, using the Spanish Grand Tour to help him get into form. So how will he go in Yorkshire, without an ideal lead-in? Who are his biggest challengers likely to be? And what’s the course like?
First up, the course. Starting in Northallerton and finishing in Harrogate, the course is a lengthy 54km with around 700m of climbing. There aren’t any massive climbs, but in true Yorkshire style, the course is very lumpy with quite a few short, steep rises along the way.
Wind could well play a role on the day, as could heavy rain — this is Yorkshire we’re talking about. It’s not a hugely technical course, but with a multitude of twists and turns, riders will need to be alert to ensure they stay upright and ride the most efficient line possible.
Can Dennis win his second straight world time trial title? The short answer is “yes”. The longer answer is “yes, but it’s not a foregone conclusion”.
Dennis is certainly confident. “My expectations are to back up and win again,” Dennis told reporters earlier this week. “I think in the worst-case scenario, it will be a podium for myself.
“If things go smoothly and I get the performance out of myself that I know I really can, there’s no reason why I can’t win.”
Dennis won last year’s Worlds time trial by more than a minute ahead of Tom Dumoulin. While last year’s course and this year’s course differ — last year had one long climb, this year has many shorter climbs — Dennis is good uphill and shouldn’t suffer too much on the lumps and bumps of Yorkshire. As he says, if he performs to his best, he should win.
Interestingly, it’s not 100% clear what bike he’ll be on. He won’t be riding his team-issue Merida Warp — instead he’ll be on “national team equipment that has been supplied to me by Cycling Australia and, through testing, has been deemed to be the best possible equipment for myself.”
A BMC Timemachine seems the most likely option — Cyclingnews reports having spotted a blacked-out Timemachine at Cycling Australia’s hotel in Yorkshire. Dennis rode a Timemachine to his world title a year ago and had considerable success on the bike while with BMC. Dennis was also spotted riding a BMC after completing a recon of the course earlier in the week.
So who are Dennis’ biggest challengers? Even in the absence of Tom Dumoulin (second last year; injured), Chris Froome (injured), Michal Kwiatkowski (fourth last year; out of form) and Geraint Thomas (out of form) there are a few who should challenge the Australian.
Primoz Roglic (Slovenia) – On paper, Roglic is probably Dennis’ biggest challenger, but a big question mark hangs over the Slovenian: will he have recovered sufficiently from his successful Vuelta campaign? If he has, watch out.
Roglic has proven himself again and again in WorldTour time trials. His Vuelta win this month came off the back of a victory in the ITT, he won two time trials at the Giro d’Italia this year, and he has ITT wins in a bunch of other top races too.
He was second in the Worlds ITT in 2017 but didn’t race it last year. If he’s not too fatigued from the Vuelta, Roglic has a very good chance of adding a rainbow skinsuit to his increasingly impressive palmares.
Victor Campenaerts (Belgium) – Campenaerts told reporters this week that he’s aiming to repeat or improve on the bronze medal he took last year. That’s a very achievable goal for the hour record holder who won the Tirreno-Adriatico ITT earlier this year (beating both Dennis and Roglic).
If Roglic or Dennis ride to their potential it’s hard to see Campenaerts winning, but the podium is a realistic goal.
Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) – Interestingly, Campanaerts believes it’s his young compatriot, Remco Evenepoel, that’s the favourite for Wednesday’s race. The 19-year-old has had a terrific start to his pro career, including fourth in the short ITT at the Belgium Tour (a race he won overall) and third in the Vuelta a San Juan ITT at the start of the year.
Most instructive, though, is Evenepoel’s win in the European ITT championships last month. Granted, the biggest names weren’t there, but to beat the likes of Stefan Kung, Alex Dowsett and Jos van Emden is no mean feat. It seems crazy to think that, at 19, a year after winning the Worlds junior ITT (he skipped the U23 ranks), Evenepoel could be a contender for the elite title. But that’s where we’re at.
Others in the mix
The top 10 should be heavily contested on Wednesday thanks to a very strong startlist. Here are some outsiders to keep an eye on:
Paddy Bevin (New Zealand) – Bevin has made time trialling a real focus this year and it’s been going pretty well for him. Second in the Vuelta ITT behind Roglic, fifth in one of the Tour de Suisse ITTs, fourth at the Tour de Romandie — strong results for the Kiwi TT champion.
Bevin was eighth last year and should improve on that this year. Top five is very doable.
Kasper Asgreen (Denmark) – The 24-year-old Dane has had a great year and notched up some impressive time trial results along the way. He was second in one Tour de Suisse ITT and fifth in the other and second at the European ITT champs behind Evenepoel — promising signs. Top five is within his reach too.
Edoardo Affini (Italy) – This season is Affini’s first in the senior ranks and he’s been impressive. He was second in the Binck Bank Tour ITT in August and won the Tour of Britain ITT less than a fortnight ago. He’s tracking nicely for a top 10 at Worlds.
Yves Lampaert (Belgium) – As if Belgium needed any more firepower in the ITT, they’ve also got the sneaky-good Lampaert pushing for a top finish. He won a time trial at the Tour de Suisse earlier this year and was second in the Tour of Slovakia ITT just last week. Another top 10 contender for sure.
Other riders vying for the top 10 include Stefan Kung (Switzerland), Bob Jungels (Luxembourg), four-time winner Tony Martin (Germany), Jonathan Castroviejo (Spain), local lad Alex Dowsett (Great Britain), and Giro stage winner Chad Haga (USA).
How to watch it
If you’re in Australia, head over to SBS OnDemand or the Cycling Central website for livestreaming between 10:10pm and 1:15am on Wednesday evening. BBC Two will have live coverage in the UK, from 1:30pm to 4:30pm local time. In the USA, your best bet is to livestream the event via NBC Sports Gold.
Podium prediction: Rohan Dennis, Primoz Roglic, Victor Campenaerts.