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European road championships: 5 things to watch at the continental contest

From Olympic champion Anna Kiesenhofer's return to racing to Filippo Ganna in the time trial, to Tadej Pogačar's form ahead of the worlds.

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Can’t wait for the worlds? Then sate some of that desire with the European championships.

The five-day contest will feature some of Europe’s finest elite riders, including Annemiek van Vleuten, Remco Evenepoel, Olympic road race champion Anna Kiesenhofer, and Tadej Pogačar, while showcasing its rising stars.

Previously an event for under 23 riders, the competition has included races for elite riders since 2016.

Also read: Filippo Ganna to ride European road championships

The European champs are the third continental contest this year, after the African champs in March and the Pan American last month. With just over two weeks separating it from the worlds, however, the Euros will provide the biggest insight into who is going well ahead of Flanders 2021.

Here are five things to look out for at the European road champs, which take place between Wednesday, September 8 and Sunday, September 12. Coverage is available on GCN+ in both the USA and Canada, and the full schedule is available here.

https://twitter.com/UEC_cycling/status/1435294970513068037

How is Tadej Pogačar’s form after his break?

Tadej Pogacar will want to keep his standout season going in Trentino
Tadej Pogacar will want to keep his standout season going in Trentino (Photo: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Tour de France champion, Tadej Pogačar will be among the major favorites for glory in Flanders at the end of this month. His punchy and aggressive style make him well suited for the arduous terrain of the Belgian hellingen and a rainbow jersey would be a perfect addition to his growing collection of awards.

With that in mind, the time trial Thursday and the undulating test in the road race Sunday will be the first major tests of his form ahead of his tilt at world domination.

Also read: Refreshed Tadej Pogačar targets ambitious fall with eyes on rainbow jersey

After raking in his second consecutive Tour de France title and taking a bronze medal home from the Tokyo Olympics, Pogačar has kept a relatively low profile as he celebrated his success and enjoyed some much-needed rest.

His racing return at the Bretagne Classic-Ouest France ended in a DNF but we shouldn’t read too much into that just yet.

With a race day in his legs and some solid training under him, Pogačar should be hitting his stride in Trentino.

Anna Kiesenhofer is back

Anna Kiesenhofer is back in action after her Olympic glory
Anna Kiesenhofer is back in action after her Olympic glory (Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images)

Anna Kiesenhofer will be racing for the first time since her Olympic triumph at the end of August. The Austrian rider who wowed the world with her Tokyo victory will not be contesting the road race but lining up in the time trial Thursday.

With Kiesenhofer’s dislike of racing in a peloton, the time trial is her favored discipline as she can test herself without worrying about being bumped off her bike due to a crash in the bunch. Indeed, she has only ridden the road race once before at the Euros back in 2016.

Also read: Anna Kiesenhofer wants more cycling in her life, but she won’t be turning pro

Kiesenhofer has spent her time since the Olympic Games dealing with her newfound fame and getting back to her work at the University of Lausanne. How that has affected her preparation for the Euros remains to be seen.

While she was able to line up as relatively anonymous to many of the big names in the bunch in Tokyo, there’ll be plenty of eyes on her when she sets up on the start ramp in Trentino.

Kiesenhofer finished 11th at last year’s rolling time trial in Plouay, but she could ride away with more in 2021.

The young stars

Alena Ivanchenko took the first medal of the competition
Alena Ivanchenko took the first medal of the competition (Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

The European Championships have long been about promoting young talent and many of the sport’s biggest names have cut their teeth with big performances at the event.

Remco Evenepoel, Kasia Niewiadoma, Marc Hirschi and Anna van der Breggen have all taken wins in this competition at under 23 or junior level.

This year’s crop of hopefuls has plenty of promise and a victory here could put them on the radar of some big teams if they aren’t already.

Russia’s Alena Ivanchenko has got the ball rolling in the junior women’s time trial, beating Germany’s Antonia Niedermaier by over 30 seconds to take the win. Meanwhile, Belgium took a 1-2 in the men’s junior TT with Alec Segaert and Cian Uijtdebroecks taking gold and silver respectively.

In the women’s competitions, Hannah Ludwig, Elena Pirrone, Vittoria Guazzini, Sara Martin, and Mariia Novolodskaia will be ones to watch in the under 23 road races and time trials. In the u23 men, keep an eye on Juan Ayuso, Tobias Halland Johannessen, Henri Vandenabeele and Filippo Zana.

Can the Netherlands get it right this time?

Annemiek van Vleuten is still on dominant form ahead an won the Challenge by La Vuelta last week
Annemiek van Vleuten is still on dominant form ahead an won the Challenge by La Vuelta last week (Photo: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

The Euros are the first major test for the Dutch women’s team since the mishap in the Olympic road race, which saw them misjudge the breakaway and Anna Kiesenhofer.

With the worlds just around the corner, getting some strong results in Trentino — particularly in the road race — will be much desired. For team coach Loes Gunnewijk, it’s a chance to prove that Tokyo was just a mishap, and the Dutch are just as strong as ever.

Of course, the team will face a similar challenge at the Euros to what they faced at the Olympic Games. They are the overwhelming favorites and other nations will be looking to them to dictate the race.

Also read: Marianne Vos on what keeps her motivated: ‘It’s the game of racing, it’s never the same’

This will be less of a problem than it was in Tokyo, however. With larger teams allowed, and several riders that could be deemed domestiques, the Dutch have the firepower to do some of what they didn’t do in August. Other nations are more likely to lend a hand as well, due to the bigger squad sizes.

Anna van der Breggen won’t be in Trentino after forfeiting her place due to a lack of form, but the other three members of that Olympics squad are there with Marianne Vos, Demi Vollering, and Annemiek van Vleuten. Chantal van den Broeck-Blaak, Amy Pieters, Floortje Mackaij, Ellen van Dijk, and Riejanne Markus give the team some formidable firepower and some more options for the win.

Can anyone outdo Filippo Ganna?

Filippo Ganna helped Italy to gold in the Team Pursuit at the Olympic Games
Filippo Ganna helped Italy to gold in the Team Pursuit at the Olympic Games (Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Filippo Ganna will be the major favorite for time trial glory Thursday and will have the overwhelming backing of the home crowd. He’ll also be hoping to drag Italy around to gold in the mixed team time trial relay Wednesday and assisting Italy to another victory in the road race at the weekend.

Ganna has had a superb season, capped off by his hugely impressive ride to guide Italy to gold in the Team Pursuit on the track at the Olympic Games. The European Champs begin a busy autumn period for the 25-year-old, which includes the road and track world championships.

Also read: Power analysis: Filippo Ganna on stage 1 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia

The pan-flat parcours in Trentino will suit Ganna down to the ground and there are places where he will be able to put down his imposing power between some of the more technical sections.

While the time trial is Ganna’s to lose, there will be some strong contenders hoping to upset the home crowd.

Defending champion Stefan Küng won’t want to give up his title easily, while Remco Evenepoel, Tadej Pogačar, Stefan Bissegger, and Rémi Cavagna will all be out for glory.