Worlds Week: Ganna vs Van Aert Was a Battle of Two TT Titans

World Championship Week was kicked off by a thrilling battle between two of the sport's biggest talents

In a thrilling duel between the most exciting time trialists in the sport, Filippo Ganna beat Wout van Aert at the World Time Trial Championships on Sunday in Bruges, Belgium. While Van Aert blitzed the early portion of the course and carved through the corners at maximum speed to put Ganna under pressure, the statuesque Italian looked unhurried on the course and didn’t panic after falling behind Van Aert through the early time checks.

His ability to churn a massive gear over the flat, straight roads into Bruge allowed him to overcome his deficit and hang Van Aert a devastating defeat on his home roads by a mere six seconds. The two titans of the clock were heads-and-shoulders above the rest, and the fight for the final podium was all that remained for Remco Evenepeol, who put in a great performance to finish two seconds ahead in front of Denmark’s Kasper Asgreen. 

Race Notes:

Remco Evenepoel was the first of the eventual podium finishers to head out. Notice just how aero his setup is, specifically, the body position. He can’t produce the massive raw watts to match Filippo Ganna or Wout van Aert, but he can make up for it with his ability to ‘squeeze’ into such a compact position while still producing power (a lot of people could get into this position, but wouldn’t be able to ride the hard with any power).

Earlier in the course, Evenepoel loses his water bottle on a bumpy section. This means he can’t drink for the remainder of the event, which is a massive disadvantage. It seems like keeping the bottle in the bike should be a high priority and it is somewhat inexcusable the team wouldn’t have a more reliable bottle cage.

Wout van Aert comes out and absolutely blitzes the early portion of the course. He approaches the first time check with the fastest time and we can see he is approaching the turn before the check at close to 55km/h (34mph). This is an extremely aggressive speed to approach on a corner, especially on a TT bike.

We can see when he exits the corner that he momentarily losses his rear wheel. This nearly brings him down, but his excellent bike handling skills allow him to save it. This shows the risk/reward of approaching the corners at such a high speed. Van Aert is likely willing to take this risk due to knowing he has to carve each corner at an extremely high speed to make up for the time he will lose to Ganna on the long, straight flat roads.

When Ganna rolls out, he has a visibly lower cadence and appears to be traveling much slower than Evenepoel and Van Aert, but this is mostly an optical illusion due to the massive gear he pushes.

Also, we can see Ganna is clearly cornering much more conservatively (and slowly) than Van Aert. He is doing this because he knows his massive power allows him to make up the time he will lose on the corners on the long straights in the final third of the race.

Ganna comes through the final time check a second down on Van Aert, but the long straightaways on the approach to Bruge allow him to roll over a massive gear and get moving at an extremely high speed (likely around 60km/h). Notice how dramatic the rise is on his handlebar setup. These are made custom for him, are extremely expensive, but are very aerodynamic while allowing Ganna to get into a position to maximize his breathing and power production.

As Van Aert approaches the outskirts of Bruge towards the end of the course, we can see the long, straight roads that mark this section of the course. Van Aert is moving incredibly quickly here and holding great form, but he is still losing around half a second per kilometer to Ganna. The number of fans on this somewhat remote section of the course was staggering and made this one of the most enjoyable TTs I’ve ever seen.

Ganna reverses a one-second deficit to Van Aert at the 2nd time check and rolls over the finish line in Bruge 5.3-seconds head of Van Aert, meaning he took almost exactly .5 seconds per kilometer from Van Aert over the last 10kms.

Top Ten:

Full time split info available here

Ten Takeaways:

1) Filippo Ganna was incredible and yet again shows he knows exactly how to peak at just the right time and is incredible at pacing major time trials. Just last week, everyone was writing him off after he was beaten by Stefan Küng at the European TT championships, but he came back with an all-time performance to prove he is one of the most impressive time trialists of all time.

  • This mirrors the week prior to this year’s Giro d’Italia when he underperformed in the time trial at the Tour de Romandie, only to come back and sweep the time trials at the Italian grand tour.

  • My guess is that this signals he has dialed in a training regime that prioritizes training through events prior to big goals at the expense of performances at lesser events.

  • One of the most impressive parts of Ganna’s win was the complete lack of urgency in his body language and pacing. The big Italian seemed to meander through the corners and came through the first two time checks behind Van Aert.

  • But his pitch-perfect pacing meant he was able to storm through the final section 6.5 seconds quicker than Van Aert, which is an incredible amount of time to make up over such a relatively short amount of time against one of the best time trialists in the world, to win by 5.5 seconds.

2) Wout van Aert suffered a crushing defeat on his home Flemish roads and got his fourth silver medal in international road competitions. His plan was to blitz the early part of the course and carve each corner at max speed in an attempt to put Ganna into a hole and force him to panic to screw up his pacing. He executed this well but still couldn’t shake Ganna.

  • This means that all of Van Aert’s three World Championship medals are silver, which must be incredibly frustrating for the Belgian star. He will certainly be motivated to correct this record in next Sunday’s road race.

  • Even in defeat, this has to be considered a massive success for Van Aert. He finished a close second to a generational TT talent on a course that didn’t particularly suit him and continues to display an absurd versatility and wide range of talents on the bike.

  • This result is all the more impressive since he isn’t even really a time trialist. He won one of the hardest mountain stages at the recent Tour de France, as well as winning the race’s marque sprint stage in Paris.

3) Remco Evenepoel gets third place against two absurd talents and also should feel great about his performance.

  • Despite losing his water bottle to a rough patch of road early in the race, he grabs the final podium place by just two seconds. His raw power might not be equal to the others, but his aerodynamic position on the time trial is perhaps the most optimal position in the sport at the moment.

  • But, at 44-seconds behind Ganna and 38-seconds behind Van Aert, he was clearly a step below both riders.

  • At 21-years-old, he just got his 2nd World Championship time trial medal, which is incredibly impressive.

  • Still, it is worth noting that this is a step back for Evenepoel, who finished 2nd at the 2019 World TT Championships, 46-seconds ahead of Ganna.

  • This slight regression makes Evenepoel’s career incredibly difficult to judge. While he is an undeniable talent, it is hard to completely ignore this backsliding trend.

  • While everyone assumes progression is linear, this certainly isn’t the case and young riders who don’t continue to improve can quickly find themselves passed over by others who continue to make leaps in their performance.

4) Kasper Asgreen, the winner of Tour of Flanders earlier this season, finishes in fourth place, two seconds behind his Deceuninck - QuickStep teammate Evenepoel.

  • This is somewhat devastating for Asgreen, for whom a world championship medal would have been massive.

  • But, on the flip side, this is still a great result for a Monument winner who is by no means just a time trialist specialist.

  • The fact that he was able to finish in such elite company on a course designed for pure time trialists is impressive, shows he is in great shape and could certainly contend for the win at Sunday’s road race.

5) The average speeds of Ganna and Vart Aert, both of whom averaged over 54km/h for close to an hour, were staggering and show just how far the form has advanced in recent years.

  • This is a testament to both the talent of these riders and the increasing advances in technological advances of the bike’s front-end, many of which are custom-made to match the ergonomics of the riders.

  • But amazingly, even with these extremely high speeds, the gaps between the top four riders were competitive, which stands in contrast to the blowouts we tend to see in top time trial competitions.

6) On that note, both the depth and versatility of the talent we are seeing in the modern time trial are re-shaping the event. Every rider on the podium has won a non-time trial world tour mass-start road race in the last two seasons.

  • This emergence of road racers who can time trial at a world-class level means the days of the time trial specialist could be over.

7) Tony Martin, once the purest of time trial specialists, finished 6th with the exact same average speed, 52.9kp/h, which won him the event back in 2013.

  • While speeds will vary on different courses, this is part of an undeniable trend of significantly increasing speeds in time trials in recent years.

8) Ethan Hayter, the 23-year-old Ineos rider, who had a breakout performance at the recent Tour of Britain, finished a surprising 8th place, which is by far his best career time trial result.

  • This is great news for Ineos, who have both seemingly found an extremely versatile budding star buried on their own roster and have struggled to replace their aging core of homegrown British stars.

  • Hayter’s breakout performance could affect how the team approaches their conversations with Geraint Thomas, who has yet to agree to a new contract with the British squad.

9) The time trial confirms that Wout van Aert is extremely fit and should be considered the favorite for the upcoming road race.

  • It also tells us that his Belgian teammate Remco Evenepoel is also in great form.

  • However, Kasper Asgreen’s performance should tell us that he could very well win the road race and that his stacked Danish team could rival, if not surpass, the collective strength of the Belgian team.

10) Tadej Pogacar comes in 10th place, close to two minutes behind Ganna, which shows that he is still not at the fitness level that saw him win his second-consecutive Tour de France in July.

  • This is to be expected since he took a long break from racing after racing the Olympic road race immediately after winning the Tour.

  • Also, it shows that while he is able to TT at a world-beating level on select events throughout the year, he isn’t able to hold that form year-round.

Away from the World Championships, Saturday’s Primus Classic saw France’s Florian Sénéchal win ahead of stars like Julian Alaphilippe and Mathieu van der Poel.

  • The story of the day was Deceuninck - QuickStep completely controlling the front end of the race, finishing with five riders in the top ten and using their collective strength to ride Van der Poel out of the race.

  • This potentially shows us the blueprint for how teams will approach how teams will aim to race against favorites like Van Aert and Van der Poel at Sunday’s World Championships.

  • It also tells us that the French team could be a slightly underrated force with Alaphilippe in great form and a rider like Sénéchal to play the joker.

  • Also, Mikkel Frølich Honoré, the breakout Danish rider, finished in 4th place after making the front group, which gives another example of the embarrassment of riches available to the Danish team.