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Worlds TTs: The favorites, the weather, why Australia isn’t fielding a team, and can anyone stop the ‘two Vans’?

Who can stop Wout van Aert and Annemiek van Vleuten? A few stars are missing for the marquee races against the clock, but deep fields are packed with favorites.

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It’s Wout van Aert and Annemiek van Vleuten versus the clock, and the world.

This year’s UCI road world championships puts the time trial center stage, with the elite men’s individual time trial kicking off the action Sunday and the women’s race Monday.

Time trial racing consists of four days of competition at the 2021 worlds, with women and U23 men racing Monday, the juniors on Tuesday, and the mixed relay event Wednesday, before a rest day Thursday and road racing kicking into gear September 24. (see schedule below).

Also read: Your go-to guide to the road world championships

Since its inception as a world championship discipline in 1994, the individual time trial has seen some of the sport’s biggest names claim the rainbow jersey.

Only two women — Jeannie Longo and Anna van der Breggen — have won both world titles in one worlds. Abraham Olano is the only elite men’s racer to win both crowns but in different years.

Could the rainbow jersey sweep be in the cards again this year?

The “two Vans” — van Aert and van Vleuten — are heavy favorites to win both races.

First, they have to win against the clock, and it won’t be a cakewalk for either.

Who can stop Wout and Annemiek?

That’s the big question for both top races.

In the men’s race, Olympic time trial champion Primož Roglič isn’t starting, and neither is two-time world time trial champion Rohan Dennis (see below) or Tom Dumoulin, sidelined with injury.

The women’s race won’t see 2019 world champion Chloé Dygert, Grace Brown, or defending world champion van der Breggen.

Also read: Will Annemiek double up in Flanders?

That doesn’t mean either race won’t be tightly contested.

Van Aert will certainly see stiff challenges from the likes of Filippo Ganna, Remco Evenepoel, Tadej Pogačar, Stefan Küng, and Kasper Asgreen.

Van Vleuten could see a tougher race, especially considering the lack of vertical on the course. Compatriot Ellen van Dijk, Marlen Reusser, Amber Neben, and Lisa Brennauer will keep things interesting.

Rain could be a factor in both races, especially for the later starters Sunday, meaning someone heading out earlier on the course might be at an advantage. On Monday, rain is expected to ease up as the day unfolds, meaning late starters could have advantage.

The time trial courses are similar across all disciplines, with the men doing a longer, out-and-back section in the middle at Dudzele.

TT courses: Flat, fast, and furious

Big rings will rule.

The courses, starting along the North Sea beach in western Flanders, are fast, flat and not very technical. The pure power riders are heavily favored.

The opening 1.5 kilometers the riders will ride along the sea, but not for long as the course turns inland. Wind is an integral part of the landscape, with trees bent sideways along the canals. It’s 5km of straight roads to Dudzele, with an out-and-back sector open to wind for the men’s race, before a passage through Damme.

From there, it’s a straight run into Bruges.

Also read: Why everyone loves Wout

Climbing? There’s almost none; a total of 78m vertical in the men’s race, so this is the big ring from start to finish.

Another big thing for 2021: The juniors and U23 will be racing again. Last year’s COVID-adjusted world championships were elite racing only, meaning the younger riders will be contesting for rainbow jerseys for the first time since 2019.

The time trials open the Flanders world championships.

In all, 11 titles are up for grabs in the eight days (September 19-26) of wheel-to-wheel combat in Flanders, a cycling hotbed, which should draw massive crowds as Belgium plays host for the 10th time, but first since 2002 and on the championships’ 100th anniversary.

  • Elite men’s: Sunday, September 19 – 43.3km
  • Elite women’s, U23: Monday, September 20 – 30.3km
  • Junior women’s, men’s: Tuesday, September 21 – 19.3km, 22.3km
  • Mixed relay: Wednesday, September 22 – 44.5km

No Australian men or women time trial starters

One team missing entirely in the pre-race list of favorites is Australia.

The usually consistent Aussie will not field starters in either the men’s or women’s time trials. Why?

After going deep to win bronze in the Olympics, two-time world champion Rohan Dennis opted out of racing. On the women’s side, medals favorite Grace Brown, fourth in Tokyo, is sidelined with injury.

Australian national team officials said they preferred to put its focus on the other categories, and let the elite men and women focus on the road race.

So only Australia’s U23 riders will vie for medals, with Luke Plapp and Carter Turnbull racing the 30.3km course from Knokke-Heist to Bruges.

Team USA: Brandon McNulty, Lawson Craddock outsiders for podium, Amber Neben targets third title

USA Cycling will have a good chance at medals with two-time world champion Amber Neben, who was fifth in Tokyo against the clock. Leah Thomas, hot off winning Tour Féminin d l’Ardèche, will also be challenging for the podium.

Chloé Dygert, world time trial champion in 2019, is sitting out both the road and track worlds following a season built around the Tokyo Olympic Games as she continues her recovery from her horrific crash at last year’s worlds.

Brandon McNulty, sixth in the road race in Tokyo, and U.S. national time trial champion Lawson Craddock will both be outsiders for a podium spot in the elite men’s race, with both starting in a second wave of riders who could pop through for a top ride.

Also read: Will the Belgian worlds deliver one for the ages?

McNulty, already a time trial medalist in the junior and U23 ranks, has sprung for a handful of top-5 rides in top-level time trials, including third in stage 14 in the 2020 Giro d’Italia, and second in a time trial at Itzulia Basque Country this year.

Craddock, hot off a solid ride at the Vuelta a España, is hoping to better his sixth in the 2019 time trial worlds, just 13 seconds off the podium.

“I’d like to have a better showing than I did at the Olympics,” Craddock said of the time trial. “The last time I did the Vuelta and the worlds, I was able to finish in the top-10 in the time trial. So I hope to do something similar, just to reaffirm my belief in myself, and show what I am capable of.”

Chance of showers, light wind on both days

Rain could impact both races, with the men’s race likely seeing precipitation for the later finishers Sunday, with rain continuing overnight and into Monday for the women’s and U23 races, with the early starters likely facing wetter roads.

Wind isn’t expected to be a major factor, with light breezes from the east at about 10kph, relatively light compared to how gusty the winds can kick up along western Flanders.

Mild temperatures are forecasted for both races, with highs in the upper 60s both Sunday and Monday.

Weather should remains favorable for the junior and mixed time trial races midweek, before heading into the weekend road races and an increasing chance of showers.