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Van Aert and Evenepoel both line up for the curtain-raising time trial on Sunday with medals on their mind as they face-off against top favorites Filippo Ganna (Italy) and Stefan Küng (Switzerland) on a flat, unrelenting coastal course into Bruges.
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Van Aert dominated the second Tour de France time trial earlier this summer, beating Küng and a host of worlds contenders including Kasper Asgreen and Stefan Bisseger. Despite carrying red-hot form after blitzing the Tour of Britain earlier this month, van Aert knows the long, flat route on tap Sunday will put him on the back foot.
“A slightly more difficult or more technical course suits me better,” van Aert said Friday. “But this flat time trial also suits me. It’s purely on power, so you have to develop a good strategy for how fast you pace yourself. It’s a fair course, I’m not going to complain about it, but it would have benefited me even more if it had a few more corners.
“The men to beat Sunday are Ganna and Küng, and they are also well-trained in that. It is a suitable course for all three of us. I aim for the highest.”
Sunday’s time trial is just the start of an ambitious double for van Aert. The 27-year-old will line up as the red-hot favorite for the road race next Sunday, just one week after unclipping from his TT cleats.
After being leaned on in the Olympic road race earlier this summer and losing out to Julian Alaphilippe’s dazzling attack in last year’s worlds, van Aert is putting a road race rainbow jersey at the very top of his ambitions.
“The road race is even more important to me [than the TT] – I worked towards that a little more,” van Aert admitted Friday. “But a world title against the clock is certainly something I want to cross off my list.”
“I already won a time trial in the Tour, after that the world championship is the highest you can achieve as a time trialist. It is also a unique opportunity, a world championship in our own country. I’m aiming for gold, but if I give the maximum on Sunday and it will be another medal, I will be able to live with that.”
Evenepoel bristling with confidence after European champs near-miss
Van Aert isn’t the only Belgian that will be pushing for the podium in the 43-kilometer solo test Sunday.
Teammate Evenepoel will roll down the start ramp with fresh memories of finishing just 15 and 7 seconds respectively behind Küng and Ganna in the 22-kilometer European championship TT last weekend.
The Euros parcours may have been just half the length of that on tap for the worlds test Sunday, but Evenepeol is carrying the perfect cocktail of confidence and form after also finishing second behind Sonny Colbrelli in the Trento road race.
“It’s not possible to make a comparison with Trento. This TT route is flatter, but I fueled my confidence last week. Despite being 60 kilograms, I will focus on my aerodynamics and my power,” he said.
Like van Aert, Evenepoel is also lining up for the road race next weekend, where he’s been cast into a support role for van Aert. The prospect of playing domestique doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm.
“I am motivated for both races – in Leuven [where the road race will be ridden -ed] to assist Wout, here to achieve a good result myself. Knowing that we have someone on the team who can win is always motivating. There is a week between those two Sundays, that’s enough to recover well, so I will give the maximum both times – twice with the same attitude.
Don’t be surprised to see a Belgian jersey on the podium at some point in the next eight days. Which rider, which step of the podium, and after which race is a more difficult thing to forecast, however.