Cycling: Pooley defies flat course and rain in storming to surprise bronze

British rider 'thrilled' with podium finish despite being unable to retain the world title she won last year

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Emma Pooley overcame rainstorms and a course that was anything but suited to her diminutive physique in the World Championships here yesterday to clinch a bronze medal in the women's time trial that was almost completely unexpected.

Best known for her climbing talents, which helped her win the World time trial in Australia last year, the pint-sized Pooley had all but ruled herself out of contention beforehand, telling Danish television on Monday, "I can't win here. Denmark, where are your mountains?"

But despite the unfavourable flat, urban circuit, coupled with sheeting rain and gusting winds, Pooley surprised both herself and the opposition as she blasted through just four seconds down on the best time at the first intermediate checkpoint.

Jaws dropped even further when the 28-year-old PhD student at Zurich University came within a second of the fastest time, set by German veteran Judith Arndt, at the midway point.

But even if gold ultimately remained out of her reach – that went to Arndt, who finally took the top prize after a string of five podium spots stretching back to a third in the 1997 Worlds – Pooley's bronze underlines how rapidly and effectively the Garmin-Cervelo pro continues to raise her game. "This time last year a top-10 result on a course like here, which really doesn't suit me, would have been good for me, so I'm thrilled to make it on to the podium," Pooley said.

After silver in the 2008 Olympics on a very hilly time-trial course running alongside the Great Wall of China, Pooley's unexpected Danish success will considerably increase the odds of a strong performance for the Ipswich-born rider on London's far flatter course next year.

Pooley's medal will also indirectly raise the pressure on Bradley Wiggins, a man with London very much at the back of his mind too, who races today in the men's equivalent 46.4km event.

On paper, Wiggins – like Pooley, twice a national time trial champion – has an excellent chance to land a top-three finish in what will be a dress rehearsal for 2012, given that he tends to shine on flat, exposed conditions.

For the 31-year-old Sky rider, Copenhagen is not just a chance to redress the severe imbalance between his World Track Championships results, where he has gold medals in abundance, and the road World Championships, where his best result is a seventh-place finish in Madrid's time trial six years ago, as well as 10th spot in 2007.

In his last World Championships time trial, in 2009, the Briton had mechanical problems while en route to a possible bronze, and – purely through bad luck – his GB car was not there to provide a replacement bike. Wiggins ended up throwing his bike away in disgust, before trailing in a lowly 21st.

Matters did not improve much last year, when Wiggins missed out on the Worlds completely, only to watch David Millar – also taking part today, but whose chances may be hampered by little recent racing as a result of becoming a father for the first time – capture silver behind Fabian Cancellara.

This year has been a very different story, with the Briton's rebounding from his broken collarbone in July so successful he notched up his first podium finish in a Grand Tour in Spain 10 days ago. But there is more than just two years of unfinished business for Wiggins at stake today. A medal in Denmark, of whatever colour, would round off 2011 in style, continue Britain's run of Worlds success that started with a silver for Elinor Barker in the junior women's time trial – and confirm Wiggins as an out-and-out favourite for London 2012.

What to watch at the Road World Championships

Today: 11.30am Elite men's time trial

Bradley Wiggins and David Millar – who took silver last year – provide British interest. Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara seeks a fifth title in six years.

Saturday: 8am Junior men's road race

Ten riders from Great Britain take part.

Saturday: 12.30pm Elite women's road race

Emma Pooley may struggle on the 140km course, but watch out for other Britons, Nicole Cooke – the 2008 winner – and Lizzie Armitstead.

Sunday: 9am Elite men's road race

Mark Cavendish is tipped to do well, although in-form Belgian Philippe Gilbert could keep up his fine record this year. Millar, Wiggins, Christopher Froome and Geraint Thomas all feature for GB.