Italy’s first time trial UCI World title: Ganna delights the tifosi in Imola

At only 24 years old, Italian star Filippo Ganna isn’t done writing cycling history, on the track and now on the road, in front of his Italian tifosi. The four-time individual pursuit UCI World Champion, who, in February, smashed the World Record for the speciality, won the Men Elite individual time trial at the 2020 UCI Road World Championships on Friday.

Half a century after Vittorio Adorni’s legendary road race success, the Autodoromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola has witnessed another historic day for Italian cycling as Ganna gives his country its first individual time trial (ITT) gold in the event’s history. The Belgian Wout van Aert took the silver medal and the Swiss Stefan Küng finished third.

“It’s incredible, I’m really happy,” Ganna rejoiced after his victory. “I had an amazing support from the car in the final kilometres. I wasn’t feeling too much pressure. I stayed with friends these last days, to just talk and think about anything but the Worlds. It’s a dream, I don’t have words. I already wore the rainbow jersey on the track but never on the road, so this will be a new experience for me.”

Due to a late forfeit from the Canadian rouleur Hugo Houle, the Autodoromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari saw 56 riders from 38 countries chase the rainbow under Imola’s cloudy sky. They started every minute and a half after Syria’s Ahmad Badreddin Wais went first and clocked a time of 42’19’’.

As the Syrian completed his 31.7km effort on the same route that saw Anna van der Breggen claim gold on Thursday in the Women Elite ITT, 27 riders were on the road. Among them, Edoardo Affini delighted the Italian spectators, recording the fastest time through the intermediate split (km 14.9): with 19’06’’, he was about half a minute ahead of the Dutchman Jos van Emden (19’32’’) and the Frenchman Benjamin Thomas (19’36’’).

In the starting area, the main favourites were gearing, including the Belgian time trial experts Victor Campenaerts and Wout van Aert, European Champion and four-time Swiss Champion Stefan Küng, the Italian specialist Filippo Ganna and the Australian star Rohan Dennis, winner of the past two editions in Innsbruck (Austria) and Harrogate (Great Britain).

Luke Durbridge, who has dominated Dennis in the ITT at the Australian Championships in 2013, 2019 and 2020, also got in the mix with a time of 19'06'' at the intermediate point, only a few hundredths of a second behind Affini. The Italian pushed all the way to the line to claim the best time: 37’25’’, at an average speed of 50.819km/h. Durbridge was very slightly off the pace: 37’30’’, only 0.108km/h slower than Affini.

As the last ten riders were launching themselves down the start ramp and Geraint Thomas (Great Britain) clocked an impressive time of 18’41’’ after 14.9km, it was clear that much was still to happen on the Autodromo this afternoon. The Dane Mikkel Bjerg, three-time ITT U23 UCI World Champion (2017, 2018, 2019) showed he was already up to the big occasion: 37’41’’ on the line, the third best time in the provisional standings.

Germany’s Jasha Sutterlin also put in a strong second half to finish ahead of Bjerg and only 6’’ behind Affini. But all these performances were outshone by the Welshman Thomas, who flew towards the top position: 36’31’’, almost a minute better than Affini. Another young talent, the 21-year-old Norwegian Andreas Leknessund claimed the provisional 2nd best time, 52’’ behind Thomas, while many of the biggest favourites were still on the road.

Most of them couldn’t keep up with Thomas’ pace after 14.9km. Campenaerts was already trailing by 17’’, and he finished with a similar gap: +15’’. Küng was even closer at the intermediate point (+6’’), and he finished stronger than Thomas, edging him by 7’’… but Van Aert had already done better: 36’20’’ (average speed: 52.329km/h).

Only two riders were able to set a faster intermediate time than Thomas: his Ineos Grenadier teammates Ganna, with an amazing time of 18’05’’ (35’’ faster than Thomas), and Dennis (18’26’’). The Italian, who had already claimed his fourth rainbow jersey in the individual pursuit in the Berlin velodrome at the beginning of the year, didn’t crack with the distance and put a massive gap between himself and Van Aert (+26’’) while Dennis had to settle for 5th (+39’’).