Let’s begin with the ITT, which will be run on Sunday over 34 km of fairly flat terrain, with riders asked to climb a 700-m hill, at 6.7%, twice – since the course itself is 17 km long and will be covered twice. To no one’s surprise, the impressive Vuelta a España winner Remco Evenepoel is widely considered the favourite for the time trial, based on his performance in the Vuelta ITT – in which he destroyed a relatively weak field, with second-place Primož Roglič 48 seconds behind. The Championship field, on the other hand, contains the best ITT riders in the world, such as two-time World Time Trial champion Filippo Ganna, two-time European time trial champion Stefan Küng and Pogačar.
Experts will look at Pogačar’s performances in the last two Tour de France ITTs, in which he finished eighth and third respectively, behind the winner in both races, Wout van Aert. But in 2021, Pogačar had the yellow jersey all sewn up before the ITT and did not need to exert himself, and this year he had no chance of winning the Tour. And van Aert is not racing in the ITT; he is going for the road race victory. I prefer to look at the 2020 Tour ITT when the Slovenian was trailing Roglič before the stage and put in an unworldly performance to win the yellow jersey, taking the stage by 1 min 21 sec over Tom Dumoulin, with van Aert another 10 sec adrift.
I think Pogačar has been carrying around the hurt of this year’s Tour de France loss for months and has been planning his revenge. He is fuelled by passion and ambition, and I believe he will want to make a big statement. If he falters, Ganna looks the most likely to win the ITT. He has had a very good year and will certainly be eager to become the first man to win the World Championship ITT three times in succession. Evenepoel put in a strong performance in the Vuelta but I doubt that he has sufficiently recovered from his exertions in the Spanish mountains to be a factor.
That also goes for the road race, which will be run a week later. Can Pogačar recover in seven days to win it? The 266.9-km course is difficult, with the climb of Mount Keira (8.7 km at 5%, but with sections of 10, 12 and 15%) coming not long after the start, followed by 12 ascents of the misnamed Mount Pleasant (1.1 km at 7.7%) as the riders will ride 12 laps of the Wollongong City Circuit, which is tricky with lots of sharp turns and road furniture.
Van Aert is the consensus favourite, with either Pogačar or Mathieu van der Poel tabbed to finish second. (The 2020 and 2021 road race champion Julian Alaphilippe has also been named by some experts as a possible winner but he crashed out of the Vuelta, dislocating his shoulder, and has been hampered by injuries throughout the year. He may simply be riding in support of his French teammates Pavel Sivakov and/or Christophe Laporte.) Van Aert has a big advantage in that he will have Evenepoel riding in support. In addition, he is rested, not having raced in the Vuelta. Van der Poel is also well rested and also has a strong team behind him, with the likes of Dylan van Baarle and Bauke Mollema riding for him. Pogačar’s teammates are not of the same calibre, which could be a factor in the outcome, as could his having raced in the ITT. I think this race is too close to call between three superb cyclists – Pogačar, van der Poel and van Aert – but it should be a very exciting race and a fantastic way to end the racing season.