With a ride that bodes well for the Giro d’Italia, the 2018 Tour de France winner, Geraint Thomas, marked his first ever world time trial championship appearance with a fourth place behind the Italian Filippo Ganna. He came agonisingly close to a medal position in spite of riding “blind” without a computer on his bike, but it left the Welshman well placed for a serious attempt on the Italian Tour, which begins on Saturday 3 October.
Over a shorter than usual course, only 31km out and home from Imola, the race was dominated by Thomas’s Ineos trade teammate Ganna, who never looked likely to be headed after he went through the halfway time check a massive 36sec ahead of the Welshman, who had set off almost half an hour earlier. Ganna, who started second last in the 57-strong field, reached halfway 21sec faster than the defending champion, Rohan Dennis, who faded to fifth fastest at the finish.
The mainly flat course took the riders largely out into a headwind as it ran south-west towards the Apennines before heading back to the town, with a rapid, if bendy, final where the riders’ solid back wheels skittered in the breeze as they tacked left and right in the final 3.5kms on the Autodromo Dino e Enzo Ferrari motor racing circuit. Thomas set the pace among the early starters, passing through halfway in 18min 41sec and finishing with 36min 31sec.
While Thomas and Ganna had prepared for the race with the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race last week, the silver and bronze medal positions were filled by two men fresh from the Tour de France. The double stage winner Wout Van Aert had been one of the strongmen in France and he continued an outstanding run of form – which also includes the Milan-San Remo Classic in mid-August – with a silver medal after posting the fastest time for the second half of the course.
The Belgian turned round a 10sec deficit on Thomas to end up 11sec faster, but did not threaten the implacable Ganna, who is already four times a world individual pursuit champion on the track. The Swiss Stefan Küng quit the Tour early to prepare for the worlds, and was rewarded with the bronze, only 8sec faster than Thomas.
“This is the first time I’ve felt good for the worlds – normally I’m empty by the end of the season,” said Thomas, who had not raced a world championship since 2011, Mark Cavendish’s year, and had never ridden the time trial. “I don’t want to make excuses but I was riding without a computer, so I didn’t know my time or the distance, I was riding blind. I was happy how it went considering that. The time trials are important in the Giro so it’s looking good.” He will be among the favourites for the Giro’s first stage, a 15km time trial in Sicily.
Thomas, Dennis and Ganna will receive strong reinforcements at Team Ineos next year, as the British team announced four new signings for 2021. The British prodigy Tom Pidcock, winner of the recent under-23 Giro d’Italia, is among them, along with the Australian Richie Porte, who finished third in the Tour de France on Sunday. The Tour de France stage winner Dani Martínez of Columbia joins from EF Education, while the Belgian climber Laurens de Plus has been filched from Jumbo-Visma.