RICHMOND, Va. -- Only a handful of people at the start line knew Vasil Kiryienka's name Wednesday.
They all knew it by the finish line.
The rider from Belarus topped a surprising podium in the time trial at the world championships, roaring over the 53-kilometer course while three-time world champion Tony Martin and heavy favorite Rohan Dennis missed out on medals entirely.
Kiryienka made the ride from the Kings Dominion amusement park to downtown Richmond in 1 hour, 2 minutes, 29 seconds. Adriano Malori of Italy was 9 seconds back to take silver, and Jerome Coppel of France another 17 seconds back to earn bronze.
"Kiryienka has been knocking on the door for a while. I feel like he's been up there for a long time," said Taylor Phinney, the top American rider in 12th place.
Perhaps he's been knocking on some doors, but he certainly wasn't among the favorites.
Spain's Jonathan Castroviejo and Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands were next, both of them having started with medal aspirations. But Dumoulin may have been undone by a massive effort in the recently concluded Vuelta a Espana, nearly winning the three-week grand tour.
Then came Dennis, who helped BMC Racing to the team time trial gold on Sunday. He was fourth through the second time check and was picking up time, but had a mechanical problem and needed to change bikes. That lost time may have been enough to keep him off the podium.
"Maybe I would have come close to a medal," he said, gazing at the final results. "It was a lot different than we expected. I'm not sure, to be honest, what happened. I expected Tony to be on the podium no matter what."
Indeed, Martin has been one of the world's best in the race against the clock for years, and was trying to join Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara as the only riders to win four world titles. He was second at the first time check, too, but kept losing seconds all the way to the finish, where he was at a loss trying to understand what had happened.
"It was super-fast and then I lost my rhythm. I couldn't find it back," he said, "and then I also lost morale to the finish. It was absolutely not my day."
Martin said he didn't think the broken collarbone he sustained in the Tour de France, or the missed training time, hurt his chances. He also didn't blame Sunday's team time trial, where he was part of the silver medal-winning Etixx-QuickStep squad.
"I had a very good preparation, never had pain, so I felt quite OK," he said. "I wanted to go for gold. I was sure I would go for gold, and it came out completely different than I expected."
The British team, trying to land a top-10 to secure two berths at the Rio Olympics, failed in their quest with Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas missing to injury and fatigue. Stephen Cummings came home in 14th and Alex Dowsett was 17th among the 65 riders who took the start.
The course is open to training on Thursday before competition resumes Friday with the start of the road races. The women's elite race is Saturday and the men's elite race is Sunday.
Riders will be happy to get away from a long, undulating time trial course that left them exposed to gusty winds. In fact, the race was so grueling Wednesday that Australia's Michael Hepburn vomited off his bike twice as he approached the final 100 meters.
Hepburn's time stood for nearly 30 minutes before the heavy hitters took the course.
Coppel, the relatively unknown French time trial champion, was the first rider to post a time that looked as if it would stand. Malori finally bumped him from the top step, the three-time Italian time trial champion gritting his teeth as he powered down Broad Street.
Kiryienka was still on the course, though.
The bronze medalist in 2012, he was fastest from the first time split on, effortlessly slicing through the wind on the long straightaways. And by the time Kiryienka crossed the finish line, the two remaining riders on the course had no chance to catch him.
Jurgen van den Broeck of Belgium, who finished well off the pace, may have summed things up best after gazing at the standings: "It's a pretty surprising top three."