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Flanders World Championships 2021 time-trial preview

Will Strickson
14 Sep 2021

With all the warm up races out the way, we look at the Flanders 2021 World Championships TT courses to see what might unfold next week

All the warm-up races are done, the European champions have been crowned, now it's time for the big one. The 2021 World Championships start on Sunday 19th September with the men's elite individual time-trial.

As the rainbow bands, won by Filippo Ganna and Anna van der Breggen in Imola last year, hit their expiry date, it's once again time to find out who's the best at road cycling's purest form.

This year's championships in Flanders mark 100 years since the first event, which saw amateurs take on a 190km TT, and while the sport has come a long way since then, the World Championships is still the only day on the calendar to truly see which riders are the best against the clock.

With Van der Breggen sitting this one out as she comes into the final races of her incredible career, and Ganna being beaten to the European title by Stefan Küng, everything's to play for and there are plenty of in-form riders looking to make their mark on the biggest stage.

Let's take a look at the courses across the week, all heading from beachside at Knokke-Heist to 't Zand square in Bruges, and who the main favourites are for each race:

Men's Elite Individual Time-Trial, Sunday 19th September

The men's course begins by the casino on the Albertstrand beach in Knokke and reaches down into Flanders through Westkapelle and Oostkerke before cutting west for a 13km loop that flirts with the edge of Bruges but heads up the Boudewijn Canal.

Riders will then come down through Damme before skirting around to t' Zand square in west Bruges to finish for a well-earned beer.

Ganna looks to earn his stripes once more after dominating the 2020 race, beating silver medallist Wout van Aert by 26 seconds and although he has shown that form a few times this season – including a phenomenal outing in the Olympics team pursuit – he also looked beatable on several occasions.

The Flanders TT profile looks rather different to Imola, too. It's flatter – there's only 78m of elevation gain – and a fair bit longer, totalling 43.4km of pain. Any riders with an Hour Record attempt in their legs will certainly hope to contend.

Speaking of which, there will be a lot of track cycling experience representing Great Britain with everyone's favourite aero expert Dan Bigham and in-form master of all trades Ethan Hayter. Both riders will be looking to at least make a few bums squeak.

They'll have their work cut out though as the favourites include: Ganna, who just lost in the European TT so is either annoyed or timing his form; Küng, who just beat Ganna and came away disappointed from the Tour de France time-trials; Van Aert, who has just won the Tour of Britain, came second last year, and won the final TT at the Tour; Rohan Dennis, who previously held the Hour Record and got bronze in the Olympics TT; Remco Evenepoel, who is on incredibly hot form, getting bronze and silver in the Euro TT and road race respectively; and Tadej Pogačar, because you can't rule him out.

And keep an eye on the Danes.

Women's Elite Individual Time-Trial, Monday 20th September

On Monday the elite women get their turn with a 30.3km route that has the same route has the men but cuts out the canal loop, going straight down from Dudzele to Damme and onto Bruges.

That slight change takes the elevation down to just 54m, so Olympic champion Annemiek van Vleuten may lose a few seconds to the purer TT specialists.

Van Vleuten and compatriot Ellen van Dijk will likely take the reigns in Van der Breggen's absence and are more than capable of keeping the jersey in Dutch hands, however there will be plenty of talented riders both in form and motivated to knock the Dutch off their perch.

Going for GB will be Joss Lowden and Pfeiffer Georgi with Lowden absolutely a contender given that she's gearing towards an Hour Record attempt at the end of September and reportedly broke it in a casual training session at the start of the year.

She'll be looking to get the better of the exceptional form of Marlen Reusser, who just won the European title, as well as whoever the Dutch select, Olympic road race champion Anna Kiesenhofer, who prefers a TT, along with consistently strong German Lisa Brennauer and Australian Grace Brown, who just missed out on a medal in Tokyo.

There'll also be no Chloé Dygert at this year's race.

Men's U23 Individual Time-Trial, Monday 20th September

Despite the fact that half of the best cyclists in the world are under 23, there is still under-23 for the men at the World Championships and they'll be taking on exactly the same route as the women.

The last three editions this race has been won by Dane Mikkel Bjerg and somehow the UAE Team Emirates man is still just 22 years old, despite the event not being included in last year's event. It's great news for the other 'young' riders though as Bjerg has been confirmed for the elite TT.

Another Dane, Johan Price-Pejtersen, just won European U23 time-trial title for the second time though, winning by a comfy 33 seconds, and he beat Bjerg as well as the mighty Stefan Bissegger in 2019. 

We might also expect big rides from Italian Filippo Baronicini and Irish road race champion Ben Healy, who came out on top in the TT of the Baby Giro earlier in the year.

Expectant British fans can be excited too, with Olympian Ethan Vernon flying the flag having just ridden five stages of the Tour of Britain – though he took a heavy fall and left the race after Stage 5. Vernon also won a stage at the Tour de l'Avenir last month.

Women's Junior Individual Time-Trial, Tuesday 21st September

For some reason, there isn't women's under-23 racing at the World Championships, so we go straight to the juniors.

The junior women's route is 19.3km long with 32m of elevation and it's far less technical than the other courses – which aren't overly technical to start with – cutting Dudzele out and heading straight from Oostkereke to Damme and onto Bruges. Pure power will out.

Thankfully, lining up for Great Britain in this one will be Zoe Bäckstedt – who broke the junior women's individual pursuit world record in August – and Maddie Leech, who was part of the team alongside Bäckstedt that won the European Junior Championships team pursuit. They also finished first and second respectively in the junior national championships TT in July.

Russia were the main competitors across the board at the European junior track championships so look out for their riders also taking their skills to the road.

Zoe's older sister Elynor finished third at this event in Harrogate.

Men's Junior Individual Time-Trial, Tuesday 21st September

There's not much change between the junior routes, only a couple of extra turns added in to take a left to head around Damme and a right back on course to Bruges.

That brings the junior men's TT to 22.3km and 44m of elevation gain and, as Carlton Kirby would say, makes it a little more testy.

Finlay Pickering and Josh Tarling will be on the start ramp for GB and, like the women, they finished first and second in the junior national championships earlier in the year and there was a fair bit of breathing space down to third place. Tarling also took home two golds from those European track championships in hte team pursuit and omnium.

Previous winners of this one include Remco Evenepoel, Tom Pidcock and Brandon McNulty so expect big things from the rider that comes out on top.

Mixed Relay Team Time-Trial, Wednesday 22nd September

The second ever mixed relay team time-trial will see the men start beachside once again and takes in much of the same route as the elite men's TT.

That first group will head down to Westkapelle and head west alongside the A11 to Dudzele before heading down the first section of that canal loop but head straight on into Bruges.

From there the women will take over and head out to Damme and north to finish the same way as the men down from Dudzele back to Bruges.

It's a total of 44.5km and 129m of elevation gain with the men covering 400m more.

Last time out in Harrogate the Netherlands took the title ahead of Germany in second and Great Britain in third.

There are only two changes to the GB squad, with Alex Dowsett and Alice Barnes coming in for Harry Tanfield and Lauren Dolan, joining John Archibald, Joss Lowden, Anna Henderson and team leader Dan Bigham.

If last time out's anything to go by it'll be hard to predict the strength of the other nations as some of the top TTers may opt to save themselves for the road races on the 25th and 26th.

However the usual suspects will still be the ones to watch with the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and hosts Belgium sure to fight for this one.

Check out our guide to the 2021 World Championships