The Australian is looking to transform himself from time trial specialist to all-round cyclist as he eyes future Grand Tour success – and his bid got off to an encouraging start as he finished ninth overall as cycling’s Middle East swing drew to a close.
He had to watch as Alejandro Valverde erased a 24-second gap coming into the Tour’s finale, but Dennis did himself and the red jersey proud as he finished 23rd on the arduous ascent up Jebel Hafeet – finishing only 1min 43secs adrift of veteran Valverde and only 1min 29secs behind him in the overall standings.
“I can be proud. I did everything I possibly could and the team was excellent, leading me into any crosswinds in every corner and I couldn’t be happier with what they did to deliver me onto the climb. And I think I did the red jersey proud,” said BMC’s Dennis, 27.
“All round I’m happy, I would have been happier with a better result but all round the mental battle of keeping going and not stopping when you’re dropped (off the peloton), it’s what we’re working on at the moment and it’s the important thing.”
And with where he’s trying to get to in the sport, as well as defending the lead, Dennis said the only strategy was to pour every last ounce of effort into the final ascent, even as he began to drop down the rankings as the climbing specialists launched their attacks.
“My legs, I just didn’t have it today,” added the man who blitzed the field to win the Stage 4 time trial in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
“They just started riding away from me. We decided if that happened, Damiano (Caruso) and Brent (Bookwalter) would pace me as long as possible and minimise the time loss. It didn’t work but it’s all good practice.
“I had to respond to what was going on, that was the best way. You know what you can do when you’re fresh but it’s always an unknown after you’ve done 188km with crosswinds, so I just had to go by how I felt.”
One of the men Dennis will be hoping to draw inspiration from on his new voyage is winner Valverde, and the Spaniard was the man Dennis identified as the biggest threat to his bid for glory ahead of the final day.
“When he looked back at one stage I wasn’t feeling too good and he wasn’t even breathing,” joked the Adelaide native.
“I picked the right guy to pinpoint as the favourite. Hats off to him, he’s a classy rider and deserved to win.”
But his 23rd place on the stage showed Dennis he is not far away from making his dreams of becoming a GC contender a reality.
“I think I’m in good company, it’s good to know I’m not completely behind them,” he added.
“I am within the range of where I need to be in February. I said it’d be a good test of where I need to get to and we’ve got a few things to do.”
Alejandro Valverde won the Abu Dhabi Tour after claiming victory in the final stage on Sunday.
The 37-year-old Spaniard, riding for Movistar, went head-to-head with Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez on the summit of Jebel Hafeet after the pair broke clear with four kilometres remaining.
And it was Valverde who came out on top to win the stage and the overall race, finishing 17 seconds ahead of Team Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman.
Overnight leader Rohan Dennis struggled on the climb and could not keep the pace while time trial world champion Tom Dumoulin suffered a mechanical problem for the second time in as many days.
More to follow…
It was supposed to be a red-letter day for Tom Dumoulin, but the only thing that was red was the roadside as he was left bloodied and a little embarrassed by a crash that ruined his chances of time trial glory at the Abu Dhabi Tour.
The Dutchman looked resplendent in his rainbow jersey as the reigning world time trial champion rolled off the start ramp on Al Maryah Island with the aim of ramping up his bid for general classification glory.
As UAE Team Emirates rider Alexander Kristoff is afforded the opportunity to wear white for the majority of the season thanks to his European road race victory in 2017 – so too is Dumoulin allowed to wear his stripes at time trial races following his gold in Norway last September.
He may well have switched to the rainbow jersey for Stage 4, but Dumoulin definitely didn’t show his true colours as the crash saw him slump down the standings, although he did recover sufficiently to claim 12th place – 30 seconds adrift of winner Rohan Dennis – leaving him ninth overall.
Dennis hopes to transition from time trial specialist to GC contender in 2018, with Dumoulin his muse. And the Dutchman might do well to reflect on his own career-shaping 2017 to find inspiration as he looks to overhaul Dennis and claim overall victory on Sunday.
Dumoulin trod the path to transitioning from specialist to all-rounder in 2017 – the Team Sunweb star famously won a first Grand Tour title at the Giro d’Italia, capping a stunning season with time trial glory.
But it was on Jebel Hafeet 12 months ago where the seeds for 2017 success were sewn for Dumoulin – as he rose to the occasion on the daunting ascent on Stage 3 to claim third behind winner Rui Costa and second-placed Ilnur Zakarin – both climbing specialists.
Tech behind the two stripes: @tom_dumoulin's rainbow edition @Giant_Bicycles Trinity Advanced Pro in all of it's glory. 🌈😍— Team Sunweb (@TeamSunweb) 24 February 2018
Check out the finer details and spec here: https://t.co/Ieq6e5BICs pic.twitter.com/JVCZceUUny
Though he will have been desperately disappointed by his debut in the rainbow jersey, Dumoulin is unlikely to dwell long on his Stage 4 debacle.
There is still stage and silverware to be won on Sunday’s summit. And the Maastricht maestro must continue to concentrate on the future as he looks to become a cycling master.