2022 UCI Road World Championships – 5 riders to watch in the men's time trial

·8 min read
 Ganna Kung Evenepoel UCI Road World Championships
Ganna Kung Evenepoel UCI Road World Championships

The opening Sunday of the 2022 UCI Road World Championships  plays host to the elite time trials, with a mouth-watering battle in store in the elite men's race.

The contest will take place in Wollongong, Australia, on over a distance that's slightly shorter than usual at 34.2km, with the men's and women's field sharing a course for the first time.

The 17km circuit, covered twice, is a varied affair, with nearly 20 fast corners mostly packed into the opening half, a short climb that peaks at 53m and then a flatter, straighter 5km final section along the coast.

Wout van Aert (Belgium) is a major absentee, having finished runner-up at the past two editions of Worlds, but in two-time reigning champion Filippo Ganna (Italy) and Vuelta a España winner Remco Evenepoel (Belgium), Tadej Pogacar (Slovenia) plus a host of outsiders, an exciting battle is ensured.

Here, Cyclingnews highlights the riders to watch for the elite men's time trial.

Filippo Ganna (Italy)

Italian Filippo Ganna of Ineos Grenadiers celebrates after winning during the time trial race 433 km from KnokkeHeist to Brugge as part of the Mens Elite as part of the UCI World Championships Road Cycling Flanders 2021 in Bruges on September 19 2021  UCI World Championships Road Cycling Flanders 2021 takes place from September 19 until September 26 2021 in several cities in the Belgian region of Flanders   Belgium OUT Photo by KURT DESPLENTER  BELGA  AFP  Belgium OUT Photo by KURT DESPLENTERBELGAAFP via Getty Images
Italian Filippo Ganna of Ineos Grenadiers celebrates after winning during the time trial race 433 km from KnokkeHeist to Brugge as part of the Mens Elite as part of the UCI World Championships Road Cycling Flanders 2021 in Bruges on September 19 2021 UCI World Championships Road Cycling Flanders 2021 takes place from September 19 until September 26 2021 in several cities in the Belgian region of Flanders Belgium OUT Photo by KURT DESPLENTER BELGA AFP Belgium OUT Photo by KURT DESPLENTERBELGAAFP via Getty Images

Filippo Ganna has worn the rainbow skinsuit for two years straight, and is the current standard bearer in the world of time trialling. He has also won six races against the clock this season alone, so he heads into Worlds as the rider to beat.

And yet, there's a sense of vulnerability about the Italian - a sense that his dominance isn't quite as total as it had seemed. Despite winning six times, he has also tasted defeat this year.

He was pipped by Stefan Bissegger at the UAE Tour at the start of the year, could only manage fifth and sixth in the two time trials at the Tour de France, and was third at the European Championship. There were mitigating circumstances at the Tour, the first being a possible slow puncture on the opening TT in Copenhagen, and the latter being the fatigue of 19 days of racing, which gave an edge to the endurance engines and motivation of the GC favourites.

The Worlds, of course, is a different proposition, and while the gloss may have been taken off ever so slightly, Ganna is still a firm favourite to join Tony Martin, Fabian Cancellara, and Michael Rogers as three-time winners.

He possesses crushing power and can produce his best performances when it matters most. If you're worried about this summer's results, take last year as an example. He was runner-up to Stefan Küng at the European Championship before putting more than a minute into him - and third-placed Remco Evenepoel - at Worlds.

Ganna will welcome the 34km distance designed to align the men's and women's time trials on the same route, with his track pursuit background lending him to the shorter efforts. His main obstacle comes in the form of a relatively technical course that features numerous corners requires bravely to dive into them on the aero bars.

Likewise, the short climb of Mount Ousley is something to be survived. However, he will thrive on the flat and largely straight 5km section along the coast at the end of the lap.

The course and the form book create question marks, but Ganna still goes in as the man to beat.

Remco Evenepoel (Belgium)

Vuelta Espana 2022 - 77th edition - 10th stage - Elche - Alicante 30,9 km - 30/08/2022 - Remco Evenepoel (BEL - Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team) - photo Rafa Gomez/SprintCyclingAgency©2022
Vuelta Espana 2022 - 77th edition - 10th stage - Elche - Alicante 30,9 km - 30/08/2022 - Remco Evenepoel (BEL - Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team) - photo Rafa Gomez/SprintCyclingAgency©2022

The biggest threat to Ganna's reign is surely Remco Evenepoel, who will even start as the top favourite for many after his extraordinary victory in the Vuelta a España's mid-race time trial.

The Belgian put a staggering 48 seconds into Olympic champion Primož Roglič over 31km on stage 10 as he made his way to the overall title, with no one else getting within a minute.

Evenepoel, an aerodynamicists's dream, has always had strong pedigree in time trials, winning the European title and getting on the podium at Worlds in his staggering first professional campaign as a teenager in 2019. He has since won a further eight time trials, including the Belgian national title ahead of his Vuelta triumph.

And it was the sheer dominance of that victory in Spain that has sent Belgian fans into overdrive. He was simply on a different level to the rest and if he can recreate that display, he has every chance of the gold medal.

The biggest barrier is the Vuelta itself, and how Evenepoel recovers from three weeks of all-out racing. This was, after all, the first Grand Tour he has finished. Moreover, the time trial capped his all-action assault on the red jersey in the first half of the race, while in the second, although he didn't crack, he was put on the back foot at times and rode a far more defensive final week.

Evenepoel's low profile will help him negotiate the technical corners on the Wollongong circuit and he'll look to make gains on the short climb, but it will still be a tough ask to topple Ganna, who put 44 seconds into him over 43km last year and who also beat him at Tirreno-Adriatico this spring. It all depends on the extent of that Vuelta hangover.

Stefan Küng (Switzerland)

Tour Poitou  Charentes en Nouvelle Aquitaine 2022  36th edition  3rd stage b Smarves  Vivonne 183 km  25082022  Stefan Kung SUI  Groupama  FDJ  photo Tommaso PelagalliSprintCyclingAgency2022
Tour Poitou Charentes en Nouvelle Aquitaine 2022 36th edition 3rd stage b Smarves Vivonne 183 km 25082022 Stefan Kung SUI Groupama FDJ photo Tommaso PelagalliSprintCyclingAgency2022

While Ganna and Evenepoel start as close favourites, there is a bigger gap to the next tranche of riders vying for the title. Stefan Küng arguably leads the way, and while a podium will be seen as the realistic target, the rainbow jersey isn't completely beyond his reach.

The Swiss powerhouse was fifth last year and third the year before, with a strong and consistent record in major time trials. He has won 16 in his career, including five national titles and, most notably, back-to-back European titles in 2020 and 2021.

However, he has largely lacked the final spark needed to get the better of every one of the world's best in the major stage races, and indeed at Worlds. The European titles - where he beat Ganna and Evenepoel last year - will give him confidence, but at Worlds last year he was crestfallen and almost dumbfounded at losing so much time to those same riders when it mattered most.

Küng beat Ganna again at Europeans last month but was denied a third straight title by a single second by his own teammate Stefan Bissegger. On overall pedigree and experience, he may possess the edge but either one of the Swiss pair could challenge for the podium. Küng is similar to Ganna in profile, a big frame with big power on the flat. The coastal section will suit him, but the technical corners will be a weakness, although Küng, who impressed throughout the Classics this spring, should fare better on the Mount Ousley climb.

Stefan Bissegger (Switzerland)

Stefan Bissegger in action on stage 3 of the UAE Tour
Stefan Bissegger in action on stage 3 of the UAE Tour

Bissegger is less of a solid proposition that Küng but on his day he's electric. His breakthrough win in the 2021 Paris-Nice time trial was a case in point - a blistering display of aggression and aerodynamics. Since then, the 24-year-old has taken three more wins but is still gaining know-how in only his second full season as a pro.

His biggest success so far came last month when he won the European title. He beat Ganna and pipped Küng to the European title by a single second, and the Swiss pair seem closely matched, even if they're different in profile. While Küng is the archetypal big rouleur, Bissgger is smaller and lighter but supremely aerodynamic.

What's more, he's a risk-taker, and therein lies the suspicion that Worlds could go one of two ways. There are 30 or so corners on the route and Bissegger will not hold back on a single one. At times, this approach has cost him, with two crashes in the Tour de France opener and plenty of near misses elsewhere. But at other times it has paid handsomely.

Whichever way it goes, it will be exciting to watch.

Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia)

2021 UCI Road World Championships Flanders Men Elite Time Trial - Knokke - Heist Bruges 43,3 km - 19/09/2021 - Tadej Pogacar (SLO - UAE Team Emirates) - photo Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2021
2021 UCI Road World Championships Flanders Men Elite Time Trial - Knokke - Heist Bruges 43,3 km - 19/09/2021 - Tadej Pogacar (SLO - UAE Team Emirates) - photo Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2021

Tadej Pogačar is another rider who could be out of the picture but could equally challenge for the podium. He's not a pure time trial specialist, and he'll be more focused on the road race the following week, but on his day he can rival the best against the clock.

Third in the bookending time trials at this year's Tour de France, he's regularly in among the world's best in major stage races, and has even come out on top, winning the stage 5 TT at the 2021 Tour and unforgettably snatching the overall title in 2020 on the Planche des Belles Filles.

Those are Pogačar's only two time trial victories outside his national championships, and he only has one Worlds appearance to his name with 10th last year. But his major event pedigree is not completely absent, with the bronze medal at last year's Olympics to his name.

The Slovenian was denied a third straight Tour de France title but has bounced back and showcased his pre-Worlds form with an emphatic sprint to win the GP de Montréal ahead of Wout van Aert. The rainbow jersey may be a stretch, but Pogačar, in a field of pure specialists, possesses the basic class to spring a surprise and grab a medal.