The smile on his face said it all. Sitting in the hot-seat on the opening day of the 2022 UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong, Australia, Tobias Foss watched on as the final rider on course crossed the finish line. Foss blinked, shook his head and laughed in disbelief. He slapped his face multiple times, as if to make sure this was no dream. Then the Norwegian cyclist let out a guttural roar. A new men’s world time trial champion had been crowned – and an unlikely one at that.
Since recording the fastest time earlier on Sunday afternoon, the 25-year-old had watched on as some of the world’s best time-triallists had failed to better his effort. The final four riders to take on the technical 34.2km course were practically a roll-call of the best against the clock: two-time European time-trial champion Stefan Küng, two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar, recent Vuelta a España winner Remco Evenepoel and defending world time-trial champion Filippo Ganna.
These were the riders expected to triumph in Wollongong. Not Foss. The Norwegian has a reasonable palmarès: he won the Tour de l’Avenir in 2019, a race known for anointing future stars, won the road race and time-trial titles at last year’s Norwegian championships and finished ninth overall at the 2021 Giro d’Italia. But compared to the time-trial pedigree of Ganna and co, Foss had not even been considered among the pre-race favourites.
Yet one by one, the final four failed to better the Team Jumbo–Visma rider’s pace, of 40 minutes and two seconds – averaging a rapid 51.3km per hour across the course. Küng came the closest, only 2.9 seconds away, to take the silver medal. Evenepoel continued his recent Vuelta form to finish third, nine seconds back. But when Ganna crossed the line – a two-time world champion in the discipline, a Tokyo gold medallist on the track, a cycling star soon to take on the hour record – the Italian was, remarkably, nearly a minute back.
And so Foss smiled, laughed, slapped his face and roared. A remarkable win, an unexpected win, a win for the ages. With his triumph, Foss became the first-ever Norwegian to win the world time trial title. He joins Thor Hushovd, winner of the road race at the 2010 world championships (also held in Australia), and Monica Valvik, who won the women’s road race in 1994, as the only Norwegians to have worn the iconic rainbow jersey.
“I guess we really like Australia,” he laughed after the race. “It was unexpected – I knew my shape were strong, coming in from Canada, putting in some nice work, [and] training has gone well in the past two months. I was really hoping to go deep today. Good preparation, good execution, and in the end there was a gold. That’s unreal.”
After his impressive showing in the time trial, Evenepoel will start next Sunday’s road race among the favourites – if he can shake-off lingering jet-lag. “I just hope I can recover and feel more fresh than I was the last week,” he said. “I feel like I can fall asleep already now. This season is getting quite long – I just hope I can recover well.”
It was heartbreak on the streets of Wollongong for Ethan Hayter, the two-time track world champion and Olympic silver medallist who recently switched to the road with Ineos Grenadiers. The 24-year-old came flying down the start ramp and looked on course for a medal, but suffered a mechanical incident with his chain-ring at the halfway mark. He battled back for fourth, but the time loss ended his medal hopes.
“Slightly disappointed, but fourth place is still pretty good,” he said. Hayter is an emerging star on the road after departing the Great Britain’s track programme, and pledged to return stronger from the disappointment. “It was a big opportunity, but fortunately the world champs are every year.”
At the post-race press conference, Küng – with the silver medal around his neck – underscored the surprise that had been sprung on the cycling world by Foss’s victory. “I could cry – and not out of joy,” he said. “I’ve been circling around this big win for quite some time. I’ve been second, I’ve been third. I’ve been beaten by Remco a few times, by Ganna, by all the other guys. I know how to beat them – I’ve beaten them all in the past.”
Küng admitted that he had made a mental list earlier in the day, of all the riders he had to beat to win the rainbow jersey. “I beat them all,” he added. “But I didn’t have Tobias in mind.”
But expected or not, Foss was a worthy winner in Wollongong on Sunday. “There are no lies, no surprises when you’re racing against the clock,” admitted Küng. “The strongest and the fastest won today.”
The world championships continue on Monday with the under-23 men’s time trial.