BRUGGE, Belgium (AP) — Defending champion Filippo Ganna of Italy shattered home fans' hopes of a 1-2 for their riders and retained the men’s time trial title on Sunday to secure back-to-back gold medals at the road world championships.

On the opening day of the week-long event in Belgium, Ganna won with a small margin of just over five seconds to beat Wout van Aert for the second year running. Remco Evenepoel, another Belgian rider, claimed the bronze medal, 43.34 seconds behind Ganna.

The flat course taking competitors through the cycling-mad Flanders region did not feature any technical difficulty and was perfectly suited to Ganna, a pure specialist of the race against the clock.

As the defending champion, Ganna was the last down the starting ramp. The Italian rider was behind van Aert at both intermediate checks on the 43.3-kilometer (26.9-mile) course between the seaside resort of Knokke-Heist and the picturesque city of Brugge but produced a perfectly paced effort throughout to prevail.

Ganna won in 47 minutes, 47.83 seconds at an impressive average speed of 54 kph.

“I think in one week, my condition (improved) really well. After the short camp at altitude, I did the European Championships but the legs didn’t spin very well," said Ganna, who finished runner-up behind Stefan Kung in the European championships time trial earlier this month.

“I didn’t know if I could arrive at the world championships with good sensations and good shape but today when I woke up, I had a good feeling in my legs and in my head I just dreamed to win again today," he said.

Spurred on by the thousands of vocal Belgian fans lining the roads and chanting “Wout! Wout! Wout!" van Aert took all the risks. His back wheel slid into a curve at the first check but the Belgian stabilized his bike to avoid a crash.

Van Aert, a versatile competitor with multiple titles and wins across the sport’s most prestigious events, is also targeting the road race and is among the main contenders for the gold medal in next Sunday's race.

Olympic champion Primoz Roglic sat out the worlds time trial while Tokyo silver medalist Tom Dumoulin was absent due to a wrist injury.

The women's time trial is scheduled for Monday.


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