The contenders for the elite men’s time trial at the 2020 Road World Championships could be divided between those who rode the Tour de France and those who prepared specially for Imola, but Stefan Küng (Switzerland) toggled between the two competing schools of thought en route to his bronze medal finish.
Fresh from his time trial victory at the European Championships, Küng lined up as part of Thibaut Pinot’s retinue at the Tour de France, but he had the blessing of his Groupama-FDJ team to leave the race early in order to fine-tune his Worlds preparation.
Küng had first negotiated that agreement when the Worlds were due to take place on home roads in Martigny, but the accord remained in place even when the event was switched to Italy in August due to the restrictions on public gatherings in Switzerland amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As it turned out, Pinot’s early exit from the general classification battle at the Tour meant that Küng had the freedom to race with the Worlds in mind, even before he left the Tour ahead of stage 17 and the final two days in the Alps.
“I thought it would create too much fatigue to do the whole Tour, and with Thibaut out of contention for GC, I had a free role, so I also took the opportunity to do some training by getting in some breakaways,” Küng said.
“We decided with the team that I would leave early to prepare ideally for the Worlds. That meant I was able to recover and then train specifically on the TT bike. In my opinion, I had a really good approach, and I think my preparation couldn’t have been better.”
The Worlds podium ultimately featured three riders who each had followed distinct paths to Imola. New champion Filippo Ganna (Italy) had tuned up by breaking Fabian Cancellara’s course record in San Benedetto del Tronto on the final day of Tirreno-Adriatico, while Wout van Aert (Belgium) powered to the silver medal after an all-action Tour that saw him win two bunch sprints and serve as one of Primož Roglič’s key mountain domestiques.
“Filippo Ganna was just stronger today and obviously Wout came from the Tour, so today we had three different approaches on the podium. For each rider it’s different,” Küng said. “For me, I was on the top of my game today. When you’re beaten it just means that the others were just stronger and there’s no shame in that.”
The bronze medal was Küng’s second in as many years after he placed third in last year’s road race on a sodden day in Harrogate. He had previously picked up a bronze medal in the under-23 time trial in Ponferrada in 2014, as well as a gold with Team BMC in the team time trial the following year.
Küng was a resounding winner of the European title in Plouay last month ahead of Remi Cavagna (France) and Victor Campenaerts (Belgium), but he faced a field of even greater depth in Imola where he fended off Geraint Thomas (Great Britain) and defending champion Rohan Dennis (Australia) to secure a podium berth.
“The goal when I came here was to get a medal. I achieved this, but for sure when you’re fighting for the podium, it means you were close to the title, but Filippo Ganna was really, really fast today and he beat us by a big margin,” Küng said.
“I’m happy with the medal, because it was a really good field that showed up here, with some Grand Tour specialists like Geraint Thomas and Tom Dumoulin. Everyone was here, so to be on the podium means that I am one of the best TT specialists at the moment in the world. It’s a good reward for all the hard work we put into this discipline.”