The form line is difficult to read in a season interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, but the list of favourites for the individual men's time trial at the World Championships in Imola, Italy, on Friday can be divided into two distinct schools: those who rode the Tour de France and those who did not.
Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) was the best of the Worlds competitors in the Tour's lone time trial, placing second to Tadej Pogacar at La Planche des Belles Filles last Saturday. That result confirmed that Dumoulin's abilities against the clock remained intact, despite spending over a year on the side lines, but he is unsure how he will fare against men who have prepared specifically for the 31.7km, such as Filippo Ganna (Italy) and defending champion Rohan Dennis (Australia).
"I thought the times they rode recently at Tirreno-Adriatico were really super fast, and especially Filippo Ganna was very strong there," Dumoulin said in an online press conference on Thursday evening. "It's likely that he will start as a favourite tomorrow. If he has the same legs as at Tirreno, it'll be very difficult for the rest to beat him.
"I'm very curious to see who will be in the leading places tomorrow – the Tour riders or the non-Tour riders. That's also important in view of the Olympics," he added.
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If the Tokyo Olympics are eventually held next year, the road race will take place on the Saturday after the 2021 Tour reaches Paris, with the individual time trial to follow three days later. Given that Dumoulin's veneration for the Olympics persuaded him to delay his aspirations to test himself as a Grand Tour rider in 2016, it seems clear that the chance of a test run for Tokyo helped to convince him to line up for both races at these Worlds just days after placing seventh overall at the Tour.
"I actually thought I was very tired, but it's not so bad," said Dumoulin, who only confirmed his participation on Tuesday. "In the last few days in the Tour, I already assumed I would ride the time trial at the World Championships. I just didn't want to announce it already and then turn out to be super tired when I got home on Tuesday and have to call it off. Luckily, I'm here and I'm looking forward to it."
Dumoulin's avowed preference is for a time trial to feature some manner of a climb. He won the world title atop Mount Fløyen in Bergen, Norway, three years ago, while his bronze medal in Ponferrada, in Spain in 2014, came after he made up ground on the undulating final section of the course. The Imola route, by contrast, is short – 31.7 kilometres – and almost unremittingly flat, but the Dutchman expects to be competitive.
"It's not my dream course, but with good legs I can do a lot," Dumoulin said. "I feel good and I'm looking forward to it. If I can get the same numbers as in the time trial at the Tour de France, I expect to be in contention for a medal."
Dumoulin will also line up in Sunday's road race as the leader of a Dutch team bereft of Mathieu van der Poel, who deemed the parcours to be too demanding for him. A mistake, double champion Paolo Bettini told La Nazione on Thursday: "You always go to the Worlds and then see how you are." It's a tenet that Dumoulin appears to be following, although he admitted that riding the time trial was hardly the recommended way of tapering towards a road race with 5,000m of climbing.
"It's not ideal. I haven't been on my bike for more than two hours in one day since Paris. That's a disadvantage for the road race," said Dumoulin, who expects the rain forecast for Sunday to make the race all the more attritional. "I expect a lot of wear and tear."
Dumoulin also confirmed his participation in the Amstel Gold Race on October 10 before he completes his 2020 season by riding the Vuelta a España (October 20-November 8).
"I'm not going to train at altitude or in the mountains [beforehand]. The past has taught me that it is very difficult to compete for the prizes in a Grand Tour if you haven't trained in the mountains," he said, seemingly admitting that he may not be riding for the GC in Spain, but could again help teammate, recent Tour runner-up and 2019 Vuelta champion Primoz Roglic, providing the Slovenian starts.