Can anyone stop Mikkel Bjerg? The Dane has based his season around retaining the title he won in Bergen last year and is the clear favourite for the Under-23 World Time Trial Championships on 24 September.
The hilly course should suit Bjerg, who has two second places in recent UCI 1.2 time trials to his name, both behind 33-year old compatriot Martin Toft Madsen. His third place on the final stage of the Baby Giro – a hilly 22km time trial – was affected by the two riders who beat him (Rob Stannard and Joao Almeida) being part of the “pursuit” style race.
Portuguese rider Almeida also goes into the time trial at Innsbruck as one of the gold medal contenders. More of a natural climber than Bjerg, the race between the Hagens Berman Axeon teammates will be a match of hill specialist who can time trial v time trial specialist who can climb hills.
Brandon McNulty (USA) was silver medallist in 2017, although he was a minute down on Bjerg and hasn’t shown enough of an improvement this season to make him a five-star gold-medal favourite. However, McNulty’s ability against the clock should see him take a medal home, or at worst claim a top 5 finish.
German Leonard Kamna is a wild card – a top class time triallist who has taken time out this year to reflect on his career goals, his form is untested in racing, other than finishing over 30 seconds behind Bjerg on the ITT stage at the Tour of Denmark. Boom or bust.
European ITT champion Edoardo Affini (Italy) has had a fine second half of the season, including signing for Mitchelton-Scott in the WorldTour for 2019, but is likely to find the Austrian hills too steep for his undoubted abilities to see him to the top of the podium.
Slightly enigmatic in his first year as an under-23, Andreas Leknessund (Norway) can climb and time trial. Whether he can put the two together at the same time on the same day remains to be seen, but as a ‘bolter’, the ginger-haired Norwegian has a chance of making the top five, although to see him on the top step of the podium tomorrow afternoon would be a surprise.
Other outsiders worth looking out for will be Tom Wirtgen (Luxembourg) and Stefan de Bod (South Africa). To describe either as an “outsider” is probably unfair and both should be well inside the top ten, but there are stronger favourites for the medals.
Backing a defending champion to retain his title is something of a copout for any race preview, but Bjerg’s focus has been on this race since at least January, his climbing has been solid this season and his time trialling is second to none. Perhaps Almeida can unseat him, but my Irish Grandmother’s shilling is on the Dane to come out on top.
A hilly 28-ish kilometres with gradients flirting with 15%. The first half of the course is generally flat but climbs – and fast descents – dominate the last 12km.
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