Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Men’s time trial 2021: Can anyone deny Filippo Ganna gold? Will Team GB medal?
Italy’s Filippo Ganna will be overwhelming favourite to succeed reigning Olympic TT champion Fabian Cancellara but a tough hilly course at Tokyo could cause an upset. Belgian duo Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel will like the 44.2km route while Australia’s Rohan Dennis and Portugal’s Joao Almeida cannot be discounted.
Filippo Ganna of Italy / during the 92nd UCI Road World Championships 2019, Individual Time Trial Men Elite a 54km race from Northhallerton to Harrogate
Taking place four days after the men’s road race, the men’s Olympic time trial plays out over 44.2 kilometres with a hilly route of two identical laps in and around the Fuji International Speedway and a total vertical gain of 846 metres.
Filippo Ganna, then just 20, did not make the Italy selection for the Rio time trial five years ago, but the Italian has picked up 10 professional time trial wins since then – including two national titles, a world championships gold medal, and five Giro TT scalps in just two appearances.
It’s fair to say that, if defending Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara was the modern-day Monsieur Chrono back in 2016, then Ganna is very much his heir apparent. But will it all be plain sailing for the rider who will celebrate his 25th birthday just three days before he rolls down the ramp at the Fuji International Speedway?
A downhill opening segment of almost four kilometres takes the riders around the speedway track and then onto a circuit which is tackled twice. The first uphill grind lasts for five kilometres with an average gradient of almost 4.5%. After a 5km descent, the course re-enters the speedway track with a short climb ahead of a technical rolling section of 4km before the riders cross the line to the sound of the bell.
While a fleeting glance at the profile brings to mind a mountain stage of a Grand Tour, the total altitude gain of 846 metres over the two 22.1km laps is actually 200 metres less than that of the time trial at Rio, where Swiss specialist Fabian Cancellara beat Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (+47) and Britain’s Chris Froome (+1:02) to land the second Olympic gold medal of his career – eight years after the first in Beijing.
The 2021 course is also 10.3km shorter than the Rio course, which featured more, but shorter, climbs, and longer segments of pan-flat roads along the coast.
The women’s time trial uses the same 22.1km circuit with the riders completing just one lap because – well, we’re not quite sure why. If the men can tackle two laps then there’s no reason why the women can’t.
Who will challenge Ganna for gold?
It’s no fait accompli that the Italian powerhouse will win the gold medal. After all, Ganna only has a 50% success rate in time trials this season having won four out of eight. Most recently, he only came fourth in the Italian national championships over a TT course of around the same length.
Strong competition will come from the Belgian duo of Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel, who are both very solid against the clock – Van Aert, notably, winning the time trial in the Tour de France on the penultimate day.
Wout Van Aert of Belgium / during the 93rd UCI Road World Championships 2020, Men Elite Individual Time Trial a 31,7km race from Imola to Imola - Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari / ITT / @Imola_Er2020 / #Imola2020 / on September 25, 2020 in Imola, Ital
Image credit: Getty Images
Runner-up in the Tour’s first time trial, Switzerland’s Stefan Kung finished above Ganna – but behind Van Aert, the winner – in the final time trial in Tirreno-Adriatico earlier in the season. British duo Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart may come into the Olympics a little cooked and – in the case of the Welshman – bashed up following Ineos Grenadiers’ disappointing Tour campaign, but their trade teammate Michal Kwiatkowski could be a dark horse for a medal alongside his fellow Pole Maciej Bodnar.
Portuguese duo Nelson Oliveira and Joao Almeida have the requisite skills to pick up a medal, as does Ganna’s own teammate Alberto Bettiol, the second man in the Italy squad.
From the nations who are only allowed one representative, Rohan Dennis – who Ganna recently usurped as the peloton’s most accomplished time triallist – carries the torch for the Australians. He has a 40-60 record in TTs this year with two wins from five.
Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran put in a monster TT in Andermatt to win Stage 7 of the Tour de Suisse but he was well off the pace in both events in the Giro d’Italia.
Dutchman Tom Dumoulin posted the 16th and 5th best times in the two Tour de Suisse TTs on his comeback to racing following an enforced sabbatical. But the 30-year-old was back to winning ways in the Dutch national championships in June and this is a course which could suit him well.
Trade teammates Remi Cavagna and Kasper Asgreen carry the hopes for their respective French and Danish teams. Both riders are accomplished in the discipline and should go well over the terrain. Russia’s Aleksandr Vlasov and Kazakhstan’s Alexey Lutsenko are dark horse outsiders who would rejoice with a bronze medal.
Finally, there’s Primoz Roglic, who got the nod for Slovenia despite not racing the national championships earlier in the year (won by Jan Tratnik). On paper, Roglic will lap up this hilly course. But how his body responds to being back in the saddle following the crash which curtained his Tour earlier this month remains to be seen. We will have a better idea of the 31-year-old’s condition after Saturday’s road race, which features a series of climbs far more testing than these mere rollers.
Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic won the Tour de Romandie by eight seconds (David Davies/PA)
Image credit: PA Sport
There are three stand-out favourites for the women’s time trial in Dutch duo Anna van der Breggen (who took bronze in Rio) and Annemiek van Vleuten, as well as the US champion and former world champion, Chloe Dygert. With the USA’s Kristin Armstrong – winner of the title in Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016 – now retired, there will be a new Olympic champion for the first time in 13 years.
When is the race?
The men’s time trial is on Wednesday 28 July. The first rider will go down the ramp at 6:00 BST and the last is expected to finish around 9:30 BST. The women’s TT runs a little earlier in the day, between 3:30 BST to 5:00 BST.
Provisional Start list Olympic Time Trial in Tokyo
Countries with two riders Belgium: Remco Evenepoel, Wout van Aert Italy: Filippo Ganna, Alberto Bettiol New Zealand: Patrick Bevin, George Bennett Poland: Michal Kwiatkowski, Maciej Bodnar Portugal: Nelson Oliveira, João Almeida Switzerland: Stefan Küng, Gino Mäder UK: Geraint Thomas, Tao Geoghegan Hart USA: Brandon McNulty, Lawson Craddock
Countries with one rider Australia: Rohan Dennis Austria: Patrick Konrad Algeria: Azzedine Lagab Canada: Hugo Houle Colombia: Rigoberto Uran Czech Republic: Michael Kurkle Denmark: Kasper Asgreen Iran: Saeeid Safarzadeh Ecuador: Santiago Montenegro Eritrea: Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier Estonia: Tanel Kangert Ethiopia: [TBC] France: Rémi Cavagna Germany: Maximilian Schachmann Ireland: Nicolas Roche Kazakhstan: Alexey Lutsenko Latvia: Toms Skujins Mexico: Eder Frayre Netherlands: Tom Dumoulin Russia: Aleksandr Vlasov Slovakia: Juraj Sagan Slovenia: Primoz Roglic South Africa: Stefan de Bod Spain: Ion Izagirre