The 2017 and 2018 European time trial champion, Victor Campenaerts, believes that he has what it takes to make it onto the podium at the World Championships elite men's time trial in Imola, Italy, on Friday. The Belgian also thinks that compatriot Wout van Aert will be one of his biggest rivals for the title, and says that he's not ruling out the possibility of two Belgians finishing on the podium.
Along with Van Aert, Campenaerts named defending champion Rohan Dennis (Australia), Italy's Filippo Ganna and Switzerland's Stefan Küng among the favourites, as well as 2017 world champion Tom Dumoulin, "although the course may be too fast for him", the 28-year-old said.
Dumoulin, Van Aert and Küng all took part in the Tour de France, which many believe could give them an advantage over the other favourites, although Campenaerts doesn't see it that way.
"I'm convinced that I have an advantage over those who have ridden the Tour," Campenaerts said, according to Het Nieuwsblad on Thursday. "Riding Tirreno-Adriatico was the ideal preparation. Whoever rode the Tour had his goals there, and not for these World Championships.
"But Wout is fantastically strong," he said of his younger compatriot, who performed extremely well riding in the service of his Jumbo-Visma team leader Primoz Roglic at the Tour, and even managed to win two stages, as well as finishing fourth in the uphill time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles on the penultimate stage.
"If you saw how well he was still performing at the end of a tough Tour in a time trial that was not made for him, then you know enough," said Campenaerts. "So I'm not going to argue here that riders coming from the Tour can't become world champions."
Campenaerts also recognises that as well as being both teammates and rivals with Van Aert for Friday's time trial, it's highly likely that one of them will take the second and final place for Belgium for the individual time trial at next summer's rescheduled Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, and that much could hinge on Friday's result.
Deceuninck-QuickStep's Remco Evenepoel – currently out injured with a fractured pelvis after crashing at Il Lombardia in mid-August – already has the first of the two places by virtue of winning last year's European Championships time trial, and either Campenaerts or Van Aert will surely be picked for the second berth.
"Wout has much better credentials on the road, and is a better time triallist on paper," Campenaerts admitted, "but I'm trying not to really think about Tokyo."
He added that he gets on well with Van Aert, but doesn't know him as well as someone like former teammate Yves Lampaert – another accomplished time triallist who'd like to go to Tokyo.
"Wout's a nice guy, but I don’t have the same relationship with him as I do with Yves, for example, as we regularly shared a room when we were both with the Topsport Vlaanderen team [in 2014]," Campenaerts said.
"That's how you really get to know someone, and I don't know Wout as well. We went out to look at the course separately, and are both preparing in our own way. We'll both share the camper van for the time trial, but that's about it. If that takes us to the next level, then it'd be great," he said. "I don't rule out the possibility that there will be two Belgians on the podium, and hopefully one on the very top."
At last year's Worlds, in Yorkshire, in the UK, Campenaerts crashed in the time trial, and limped home in 11th place.
"You get a lot of opportunities in cycling," he responded. "If you only think back to what went wrong, you'd get depressed. A rider loses a lot more often than he wins – even Wout van Aert. I mainly think of the good moments.
"I'm aiming for the podium," Campenaerts concluded, "and dreaming of the world title."