Preview: Your guide to the 2020 Road World Championships time trials

by Abby Mickey & Matt de Neef


For a minute it looked as though there would be no Road World Championships in 2020, yet here we are. This week the world’s best descend on Imola, Italy for a condensed version of the Road Worlds carnival. As per usual, Worlds will kick off with time trials, although this year it’s the elite ITTs only, after the UCI decided to leave out junior and U23 categories for the rejigged 2020 event.

Here’s what you need to know about the women’s and men’s individual time trials at the 2020 Road Worlds.


The course

The elite time trials at the 2020 Worlds are unusual in that the women and men will race the same distance. Both races will be contested on a 31.7 km course that starts and finishes at the Imola Formula One circuit and comprises a loop to the south west.

 

It’s a very flat time trial circuit with just 200 metres of elevation gain for the lap. Expect to see average speeds approaching 50 km/h for the women’s field and above 50 km/h for the men’s.

Schedule

The elite women’s time trial starts at 2:40pm local time on Thursday September 24.
The elite men’s event starts the following day at 2:30pm local time.

Women’s contenders

The women’s start list is small — not unusual for an individual time trial — which all comes down to points and which countries are allowed what number of riders. Similar to last year, the USA will line up with three riders — the maximum allotment. The Dutch, who also started three last year, will only start two in 2020, with 2018 ITT world champion Annemiek van Vleuten sidelined due to a broken wrist sustained last week at the Giro Rosa.

A number of former world champions will line up on Thursday, but there are some notable exclusions from the startlist besides Van Vleuten.

Van Vleuten crashed out of the Giro Rosa. While she’s likely to start the Worlds road race on Saturday, she’ll miss the ITT.

Mavi Garcia, who recently won both the ITT and the road race at the Spanish national championships, and Elisa Longo Borghini, the current Italian ITT national champion who on Saturday finished third overall at the Giro Rosa, are both absent from the start list. Lotte Kopecky, who won the Belgian ITT title by over a minute, will also miss the Worlds ITT. Given the Belgian road race title was held on Tuesday — which she also won — it would have been a tight turnaround to get to Imola.

As for riders to watch at this year’s World Championships, there are a few that stand out.

The Americans are bringing two former world champions: Amber Neben, who won in 2008 and in 2016, and Chloe Dygert. Interestingly Dygert, the defending champion, has not done a single race this year. The 23-year-old is on a trade team based in the US (Twenty20 Pro Cycling) but with the cancellation of all of the racing this year due to COVID-19 she has not yet started an event in 2020.

That being said, last year she won the Worlds ITT and placed fourth in the road race having done only races in North America, where the scene is not quite as competitive as Europe. A betting man would still be safe choosing Dygert for the 2020 time trial world title. In 2017 she placed fourth in the ITT in Bergen after four months out of competition due to injury. This year she will have had ample time to perfect her form from the comfort of home.

Dygert beat some massive names of the sport to take the rainbow jersey in Yorkshire last year.

Amber Neben is a little bit of an unknown. The 45-year-old started the Giro Rosa on September 9 but only competed in the opening team time trial. There’s no saying what her form is at the moment, but as a two-time former world champion, it’s not smart to rule her out of at least getting on the podium. Plus, her last world championship was won on the absolutely pancake-flat course in Doha, and this course is also … pretty flat.

The third American on the roster is Lauren Stephens who comes in with terrific form after winning the Tour de l’Ardeche earlier this month.

Van der Breggen has won a rainbow jersey on the road. Can she do the same in the ITT?

It comes as no surprise that two of the out-and-out favorites are Dutch. Sure, Annemiek van Vleuten will not start, but that doesn’t make the Dutch team any less terrifying.

On the one hand you have Anna van der Breggen, fresh off her overall win at the Giro Rosa. Van der Breggen was the Dutch ITT champ in 2015, but her most impressive time trial performance was exactly one month ago at the European Championships where she bested the three-time European champ Ellen van Dijk by 31 seconds. Clearly Van der Breggen is flying, and although she has been the world champion on the road, she has never won the title in the aero bars.

The reigning Olympic champion has added many bucket-list victories to her palmares this year, including the Dutch road race title — something she’d never won before. With that kind of form and the fact that she is set to retire after 2021, an individual time trial world title would look marvellous in her trophy case.

Hands down one of the most impressive time trialists of our time, Ellen van Dijk, is not to be ruled out for this title. The Dutchwoman was unable to compete in the Worlds ITT in 2019 after she crashed in the Boels Ladies Tour and sustained a broken pelvis and humerus. With a remarkable list of ITT victories to her name, and coming off of a few strong performances at the Giro Rosa, Van Dijk will certainly factor in the race on Thursday.

Van Dijk won the Worlds ITT back in 2013.

There are two other notable mentions starting this race, one of which is 2014 ITT world champion Lisa Brennauer. She placed fourth in the ITT at the European Championships last month, behind Van Dijk, Van der Breggen, and Marlen Reusser of Switzerland. Brennauer has been the German champion in the time trial three times, in 2013, 2014, and 2018. Just recently she won the road race at the German national championships, and she was looking strong at the Giro Rosa as well.

The final rider who could shake up Worlds is Switzerland’s Marlen Reusser. In the European Championships, she was third behind two of the very best time trialists in the world. Last year she landed sixth in the Worlds ITT, after winning the Swiss time trial title. Reusser has only been racing her bike since 2017 but has been national champion every year since, except in 2018. At 29 she is primed to be one of the next great time trialists in the sport.

Men’s contenders

Rohan Dennis will start as the favourite in Friday’s men’s race. The Australian has won the past two world titles against the clock and it’s not hard to see him equalling Tony Martin’s record of three straight wins from 2011-13 (Martin also holds the equal record for total number of Worlds ITT wins, with four. Fabian Cancellara and Jeannie Longo also have four.)

Dennis was third in the final-stage time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico 10 days ago behind Filippo Ganna and Victor Campanaerts. While that time trial course was flat like Friday’s, the Tirreno ITT was only a third the length of the Worlds race. You can probably expect Dennis to come up trumps in the longer ride this week.

Rohan Dennis after winning the time trial at the 2019 Worlds in Yorkshire.

That’s not to say that Ganna doesn’t have a shot — he certainly does. The recently crowned Italian ITT champ was third last year and a similar result — if not better — is certainly within his range.

And as for Campanaerts, he was third in this event a couple years ago and will likely be aiming for the podium again. It’s worth noting though that Campanaerts was beaten at the recent Belgian time trial championships by all-rounder extraordinaire Wout van Aert.

It would not be a shock in the slightest to see Van Aert on the podium on Friday. He rode an excellent hilly time trial on stage 20 of the Tour de France to finish fourth. The only rider ahead of him on the day that’s racing the Worlds ITT is Tom Dumoulin.

Wout van Aert put in a very strong ride in the Tour de France ITT.

Dumoulin was second in that Tour time trial with only the rampaging Tadej Pogacar ahead of him. After such a lengthy lay off from the sport through 2019 and 2020 — more than 400 days with no racing — Dumoulin certainly seems to be working back into some good form. The Dutchman won the Worlds ITT in 2017 and he might well challenge Dennis on Friday.

Geraint Thomas is an interesting prospect. After being left off Ineos’ Tour squad the Welshman went to Tirreno-Adriatico where he was fourth in the final-stage ITT and finished second overall. With the Giro just over a week away — where Thomas will lead Ineos — the 2018 Tour winner is clearly working into strong form and he should be in the mix on Friday.

For other possible contenders for the top five, keep an eye on Kiwi Paddy Bevin (fourth last year), French champion Remi Cavagna (an impressive sixth in the Tour ITT) and Swiss champ Stefan Kung. We’ll also be interested to see how Mikkel Bjerg goes — this is the Dane’s first elite Worlds after winning three straight U23 time trial world titles …

Who’s your pick for the women’s and men’s time trials? Let us know in the comments below.

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