Remco Evenepoel kept looking down at the computer on his bike and seeing that he was putting out quite a bit more power than the Belgian team had planned for him during the men’s time trial at the cycling world championships.
At some point Friday, Evenepoel realized that winning the gold medal was a real possibility.
So with each time check showing Evenepoel ahead of two-time champion Filippo Ganna and the rest of his rivals, Evenepoel continued to push the tempo on the grueling ride toward Stirling Castle. Not even the brutal uphill finish on the cobbled streets slowed him down, and Evenepoel stopped the clock in a winning time of 55 minutes, 19.23 seconds.
Ganna took silver for Italy, finishing 12.28 seconds back, while Britain’s Josh Tarling claimed the bronze medal.
“I think I’m the first Belgian ever to win a world title in the TT,” said Evenepoel, who was unable to defend his road race title last week over a course and pace that hardly suited his style. “It was maybe one of my biggest goals of the season, and to win today and to do it on a tough course that was maybe not perfect for a guy my weight — I just had to have a super good day.”
Evenepoel may have had the best day of anyone competing in Scotland.
The 19-year-old Tarling, the former junior time trial champion, set the early pace with a blistering ride in his first shot at the elite championship. His pace was far ahead of anyone that had taken the course before him, and the British time trial champion had to spend quite a bit of time in the hot seat waiting for the heavy hitters to finish.
Ganna was consistently ahead of the pace, though, and that helped to give Evenepoel starting behind him a target.
The two-time winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, who also won the Giro d’Italia time trial and wore the pink leader’s jersey earlier this season, was only slightly ahead of Ganna at the first time check. But Evenepoel stretched his advantage to 12 seconds by the second checkpoint and still held a 10-point margin by the third time check.
Evenepoel picked up two more seconds on the hard finishing climb to secure the gold medal for Belgium.
“I could ride harder and faster than we planned. I could always ride 10 or 15 watts above my pacing plan,” Evenepoel said. “When you know after 15 minutes you’re not on your limit, and your legs feel good, you know you’re having one of those days.
“This final climb was really brutal,” he added. “It really gave an extra knife in the legs on this super hard time trial.”
Evenepoel was second at the 2019 championships and third in the time trial the past two years. His victory sends him toward the final part of his season on a high note, and makes him one of the favorites for next year’s Paris Olympics.
“All these hours on the TT bike really paid off,” he said, “and yeah, it shows in the results.”
Ganna wasn’t too disappointed with his silver medal given the way his championships schedule played out. He won gold in the individual pursuit and was part of the silver medal-winning Italian squad in the team pursuit, then he headed outside to tackle what was one of the hardest time trial courses in recent history.
Just about everyone lamented the final climb, which pitched upward at 6% for about 750 kilometers.
“This last climb is horrible,” Tarling said. “I never did this last bit in the recon, and I thought when you turned left you’re nearly there, and then it’s like, ‘Whoa! Up to the clouds!’” But I did it well.”
In fact, Tarling may have been the biggest revelation of the time trial.
Spurred on by his home crowd, Tarling edged Brandon McNulty of the U.S. and Wout van Aert, the two-time time trial silver medalist from Belgium, giving the British squad a young hope for the Paris Olympics. Bradley Wiggins won the event at the 2012 London Games while Chris Froome has been on the podium at two of the last three Summer Games.
“It’s a bit crazy. I’m just super glad to do it in the UK,” Tarling said. “I think it was all about being patient, setting a good pace on the way out in the headwind, and then on the way back it got lumpy and twisty, but it went well.”