Enormous Evenepoel and ITT upset at 2022 World Championships

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

In many ways, the Elite Men’s side of the 2022 World Road Championships, held in Wollongong, Australia, provided two enormous races. On the first day of the competition, there was an enormous upset in the individual time trial as an unheralded Norwegian, Lukas Foss, beat the best time trial riders in the world, including the two-time defending champion Filippo Gana of Italy, the former European champion, Switzerland’s Stefan Küng, and Tadej Pogačar. On the last day, Vuelta winner Remco Evenepoel of Belgium destroyed a high-class peloton with a mix of opportunistic riding and enormous power.

To begin at the end, Evenepoel was clearly not too tuckered out from his impressive victory in the Vuelta a España two weeks earlier. If anything, that victory gave him wings because he also finished a close third in the ITT. His performance in the road race was so dominating that it was effectively over with 30 km to go when he took off on his own and continued to build his lead until the finish. His gap over the second-place finisher, Christophe Laporte of France (and the entire peloton) was a whopping 2 min 21 sec. The host country’s best hope, Michael Matthews, finished third, just ahead of the prerace favourite, Wout van Aert.

It seems that Evenepoel was just savvier than the rest of the peloton, which allowed him to break away with some 25 other strong riders with 60 km to go in the race. The lead grew to 2 minutes as the peloton was never sufficiently organized to form a serious chase until it was too late. Eventually, Evenepoel broke away from the breakaway group with the Kazakh rider Alexei Lutsengo who was then left eating the winner’s dust on the penultimate climb, the 11th ascent of Mount Pleasant, when the Belgian produced an irresistible burst of speed.

Foss’s victory in the ITT was wholly unexpected, as his most important previous victory on the circuit had been a yellow jersey in the 2019 Tour de l’Avenir. However, a careful look at his record shows that he won the Norwegian under-23 time trial championship in 2016 and the Norwegian time trial championship in 2021 and this year. So he obviously had the talent. But I’m sure he was never considered a serious contender because Norwegians don’t get enough respect as cyclists. Well, that is about to change because the under-23 ITT world championship was also won by a Norwegian, Søren Wærenskjold.

Foss must have calculated the race very precisely because he won it on the final stretch where Küng and especially Ganna lost valuable time to the winner. Küng, who had led at the first two time checks, finished second, 3 seconds behind, with Evenepoel at 9 seconds. Pogačar was sixth, 48 seconds adrift, with Ganna seventh, at 56 seconds.

It was a disheartening championship for Pogačar, who has not had a good year, losing the Tour de France to Jonas Vingegaard (who chose not to ride in the championships). The championships were also a disappointment to Evenepoel’s Belgian teammate van Aert who had chosen to skip the time trial to concentrate on winning the road race. However, his compatriot had a better plan and better legs. Van Aert even came up short when sprinting for the silver and bronze, finishing fourth behind Laporte, his Jumbo-Visma teammate, and Mathews.

But the worst championship experience was that of one of the pre-race favourites for the road race, Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands. On the night before the race, he was awakened in his hotel by teenagers repeatedly knocking on his door. According to reports, van der Poel left his room to ask that the noise stop, and was involved in a fracas with two girls, which led to his arrest by local police. He returned to his hotel at 4 a.m. and was at the start of the race but dropped out after only 30 km. According to his Alpecin-Deceuninck team’s manager, Christoph Roodhooft, the incident has left the Dutch rider “mentally broken.”

On the other hand, Evenepoel has had a great year, as he himself acknowledged. “It’s incredible, the things I achieved this year,” he told journalists. “A season cannot be better – to win a monument [the Liège–Bastogne–Liège], a rainbow jersey [the World Championship] and a Grand Tour [the Vuelta]. I think you cannot do better than the year I’m having right now.” He is also the first rider to win a Grand Tour and the world championship since 1989 when Greg LeMond pulled it off.

Another past rider to win a Grand Tour and a world championship in the same year was the great Eddy Merckx who did it twice. After Evenepoel’s world championship win, commentators were quick to compare him – as they previously had Pogacar and van Aert – to the Cannibal. This only testifies to the fact that there is only one Eddy Merckx, who dominated the sport and was incomparable for more than a decade. So many current riders have now been compared to Merckx that it is likely – though too soon to tell – that neither Evenepoel, nor van Aert, nor Pogačar will dominate the sport the way Merckx did, and that perhaps the real “next Eddy Merckx” is still waiting in the wings. In the meantime, we cycling fans can look forward to years of great competition and wonderful performances by the Eddy Merckxes we are fortunate to have.