Team Sky's Chris Froome looks set to go to the World Championship in Bergen, Norway, aiming to win a first rainbow jersey in the individual time trial.
Two-and-a-half weeks after crossing the line in Madrid to complete his first Vuelta a España victory, Chris Froome will take to the start line of the the individual time trial at the World Championships, looking to add a rainbow jersey to the yellow and red jerseys which he’s won already this year.
Historically, Froome hasn’t exactly excelled in the World Championships, failing to finish the road race in each of the six occasions he has taken to the start line, and coming an anonymous 18th in his one previous ride in the time trial in 2009.
However this year things could be a little different, with a time trial course that looks almost as if it could have been designed specifically to attract Froome to make the journey north to Norway.
At past World Championships, the men’s and women’s elite time trials have generally followed fairly similar courses, the men usually doing an extra lap to boost the distance. However in Bergen the courses are more distinct.
While the women tackle a gently rolling course including a 1.4km climb with an average gradient of 7.2 per cent and a flat finish in the middle of town, the men miss out this modest climb in favour of a ruder ending.
At 31km in length, the men’s elite time trial is by far the shortest in the race’s 23-year history at the World Championships, but will finish with a testing climb up Mount Fløyen, a popular tourist spot overlooking the city.
It may only be 3.4km long, but the climb is a real tester. The average gradient is more than nine per cent, with a long section near the summit of more than 10 per cent and some slopes of nearly 15 per cent around the flamme rouge.
What’s more, the stats don’t tell the whole story with no fewer than 12 tight hairpins in the first kilometre and 14 more over the rest of the climb.
This means a climb that will make it difficult for the real time trial specialists to get into a rhythm, and demands multiple uphill accelerations to get up to speed out of each of the corners, not to mention good bike handling and cornering to make sure that vital fractions of a second aren’t lost at each bend.
On paper this is a course that is perfect for Froome, allowing him to limit his losses to the pure time triallists such as Tony Martin on the flat-ish first 27.6km of the course, before gaining large amounts of time on the final climb up Mount Fløyen.
However, things might not be as easy as that, and there is much more to the World Championship time trial than the parcours when it comes to deciding the winner.
As a Grand Tour general classification rider, much of Froome’s performance depends on being able to deliver while fatigued deep into three week races, not while fresh as he and the rest of the riders will be going into the World Championships.
Looking at past results, it’s noticeable that the earliest in a Grand Tour that Froome has ever won a time trial was on stage 16 of this year’s Vuelta, and he hasn’t won a time trial in a one-week stage race since 2014.
A parallel can also be made with the Olympic Games time trial in 2016, another set piece race on a hilly course which should have suited Froome down to the ground, but where he was comprehensively beaten by Fabian Cancellara and Tom Dumoulin, having to settle for the bronze medal.
Then there’s the small matter of Dumoulin, who looks set to be Froome’s main challenger for the rainbow jersey.
Having only ridden the BinckBank Tour and the two Canadian WorldTour races in the last two months, the Dutchman’s form is a bit of an unknown, but he’s undoubtedly of the calibre to be able push Froome hard and has been targetting a first set of rainbow bands since winning the Giro d’Italia in May.
Dumoulin will also come to the race fresh, while Froome will be hoping to stay off the beer and pizza after briefly celebrating his Vuelta triumph and keep his legs turning over in an attempt to hold on to the form that he’s had since the start of the Tour de France.
That means that Froome will face a real test if he is to put the cherry on top of his stunning 2017 season, even if he could hardly have hoped for a better course if he’d designed it himself.