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Belgian Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick Step), just 19 years old, is the ‘super favorite’ to take cycling’s prestigious individual time trial title this week in Northern England. The World Championships lacks a few top stars this year, but several like Evenepoel shine brighter than ever ahead of the time trial.
Evenepoel, current European Champion, tops a list that includes Slovenian Vuelta a España winner Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Belgian hour record holder Victor Campenaerts (Lotto-Soudal) and reigning TT champ, Australian Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida).
“My ambition is to at least match the bronze medal of last year,” Campenaerts told Het Neiewsblad. “I think my main rival will be Primož Roglic, who rode a fantastic Vuelta and who will for sure be superb now. Rohan Dennis has also been out of competition for a long time, but I estimate his chances are high. I also expect Remco Evenepoel [to perform well], I think he’s the super favorite. Remco is a compatriot but of course also a rival.”
Evenepoel made his debut in the top WorldTour ranks in 2019. Last year, he swept the Worlds junior time trial and road race titles before making the rare leap to the professional WorldTour ranks. This year, the pressure apparently did not weigh on his shoulders because he rode away to multiple wins, including the Euro time trial and the Clásica San Sebastián.
The young Belgian’s arrival at the elite World Championships signals a changing landscape in the sport. Followers, however, will regret that the current guard are unable to witness the shift. Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), the 2018 champion, is out due to a crash in the Giro d’Italia, British Tour de France champion Chris Froome (Ineos) is recovering from a broken leg this June, and Welshman Geraint Thomas (Ineos) is saving his energy for the British team in Sunday’s road race.
“My goal? A top five. I certainly don’t want to be the last,” said Evenepoel, who has never time trialled 54 kilometers. “I am curious how my body will respond to such an effort. But I am naturally a winner, so I want to do it as well as possible.”
It did not take long for Evenepoel, son of former professional Patrick Evenepoel, to get up to speed in 2019. He won the youth classification at his first race, the Vuelta a San Juan. Then he took a stage and the overall of the Baloise Belgium Tour and a stage in the Adriatica Ionica Race. But the Euro Champs and San Sebastián victories stand out the most.
The road is long for Evenepoel and his fellow competitors in Yorkshire, where 65°F and rain await on Wednesday. The trip south from Northallerton heads through the moors and valleys, then climbs the hills of the Yorkshire Dales heading towards Harrogate. The riders face 684 meters of climbing and if the English gods exhale, a chance of side and head winds.
“There is one zone that is really difficult and where it constantly goes up and down,” continued Evenepoel. “That zone will be decisive… The last three kilometers are also very tough. It will be difficult for everyone, also to manage the effort. It’s currently not windy. If the wind arrives, it will be a battle.”
Besides Campenaerts, followers will keep watch on Roglic and Dennis. Both are in a race for the rainbow jersey, but both must manage the 2019 load. Roglic just won a demanding Vuelta a España ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team).
Dennis will try for a redemption ride. At the Tour de France, he dropped out the day before the time trial for reasons that are still only known by him and his Bahrain-Merida team. He has not raced since. Given this, the reigning champion can only be considered a dark horse despite some recent strong training rides.
“Physically I’m still as good as I was last year and my power profile test was the best numbers I’ve ever done,” Dennis told AFP. “Mentally I have days where it’s hard, but I believe I can still win.”
Among the Americans, Chad Haga (Sunweb) and Lawson Craddock (EF Education First) are the top hopes. The win in the Giro d’Italia time trial this June will encourage Haga as he races towards Harrogate.