He’s the three-time reigning Australian time trial champion and has picked up time trial victories at both the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana – but it is overall success that Rohan Dennis is switching his focus to in 2018.
The BMC rider sped to victory at Stage 4 of the Abu Dhabi Tour on Saturday – as the race staged its first ever time trial – but Dennis has designs on the red jersey, with general classification glory now on his mind rather than just success in his specialist category.
And GC honours are not something he is limiting himself to only in Abu Dhabi as he looks to defend a 24-second gap on the mountainous Stage 5 to Jebel Hafeet from Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde on Sunday.
But after being forced to abandon the Giro d’Italia a year ago on the fourth stage after injuries sustained in a crash on Stage 3 – as he plotted a transformation to Grand Tour contender – Dennis is now determined to make that a reality this year.
“That is what I want to take on, 100 per cent,” said Dennis, 27, addressing his shift to winning GC titles.
“Last year, crashing out of the Giro wasn’t a great start to the new route in cycling I wanted to take. This year I want to really have a crack. I had to keep chugging away and trying to learn everything I possibly can from every Grand Tour I’m in.”
This year’s Giro kicks off with a time trial on May 4, but Dennis is looking beyond the first day and aims to contend for the full three weeks.
“From now on it’s always looking at the overall,” added the Adelaide native.
“I’ve still got a lot to learn. If I can get the pink jersey on the opening stage it’ll be a bonus, but it’s not my initial goal. It’s about making it three weeks and see where I can go overall.”
Dennis destroyed the rest of the field in the capital on the Tour’s penultimate stage, surging to victory on Al Maryah Island in windy conditions in a time of 14m 21.18s – beating Team Sky’s Jonathan Castroviejo by a full 14 seconds.
“Pretty good,” he said when asked about his chances on Jebel Hafeet.
“It’s a hard climb but I also think it’s more suited to a time trialist and we’ll be putting everything we possibly can into keeping this jersey. It’ll be great for me and a great start to racing outside of Australia (if I can win).”
Spanish veteran Valverde is the main man he’s worried about after the Movistar man finished ninth yesterday.
Always a nice feeling being on the top step. Nice bonus getting the leaders jersey as well… https://t.co/rGHeGTgpnj— Rohan Dennis (@RohanDennis) 24 February 2018
But as he aims to take a leaf out of Tom Dumoulin’s book – the Dutchman is also a time trial specialist but finished fifth on the Tour’s mountain stage a year ago before going on to claim the Maglia Rosa at the Giro – Dennis admits he is relishing the challenge of holding on to the red jersey on Sunday.
“Valverde is perhaps the most threatening,” Dennis said when asked to pick out his main challengers.
“Obviously Dumoulin is right up there, but in the crosswinds on Stage 2 he (Valverde) was looking strong so if he can do that on a flat I think he’s quite dangerous on the climbs.
“But it’s a good way to see where I’m at with climbing. It’s about pure power, it’s not super technical.”
As for Dumoulin, it was a fairly disastrous day for the Dutchman, who was donning the rainbow jersey having claimed the honour after bookending a fabulous 2017 by winning world time trial gold in September.
He crashed in the second part of the race and eventually came home in 12th place – although he is only 31 seconds behind Dennis in ninth place overall.
Dennis admitted he was disappointed for Dumoulin, but also believes he would have beaten him even if he hadn’t taken a tumble.
“Everyone knows I’ve had my fair share of those issues and it’s not nice to lose a race because of that,” he said.
“I still believe I would have won today. I was 31 seconds in front and a bike change we usually say takes 30 so he was one second up and lost 32 to me. Look, I’m not gonna say I’m unhappy, but it is a shame if someone loses because of that.”
With desires of adding a new dimension to his cycling, Dennis admitted Dumoulin is his inspiration.
“Everything he’s done is a confidence boost with what is possible for me,” he added.
“We’re quite similar riders and it’s possible if I get everything right like he and (Bradley) Wiggins have, then a Grand Tour is possible for me.
“You can see what he (Dumoulin) did in the Giro. He had some bad luck and lost Wilco (Kelderman, teammate) early on, so it’s not always about the legs but about the head and keeping that on when things are against you.”
Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing clinched the Abu Dhabi Tour‘s individual time trial stage on Saturday and moved into the overall lead.
The Australian navigated around the flat 12.6km course starting and finishing on Al Maryah Island with a stunning time of 14 minutes and 21 seconds.
Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) struggled for pace during the time trial, and lost the red leader’s jersey.
Dennis is now top of the general classification ahead of Jonathan Castroviejo (Team Sky), with Miles Scotson (BMC Racing) in third and Jos van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo) in fourth.
The Abu Dhabi Tour finishes on Sunday with stage five, a gruelling 199km ride from Qasr Al Muwaiji to the soaring Jebel Hafeet.
More to follow…
Luke Rowe won’t have turned many heads at the Abu Dhabi Tour – finishes of 96th, 102nd and 135th in the Emirates hardly scream headline news.
But it is the Welshman’s presence in the UAE capital itself that is newsworthy. The Team Sky rider lined up for the Tour’s Stage 1 on Wednesday just six months since suffering 25 different fractures to his right leg after jumping into a shallow section of water while white-water rafting on his brother Matt’s stag do in Prague.
He had a metal rod inserted into his leg during surgery and doctors initially advised him that he was facing a lengthy absence out of the sport – if he ever rode again at all.
But the 27-year-old Cardiff native wasn’t having any of that, although he admits saddling up in Abu Dhabi this week was beyond his wildest dreams – he had initially slated his return for the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast in April.
“It’s so far ahead of schedule, I shouldn’t be here really,” Rowe said at the finish line of Stage 3 on Abu Dhabi’s Corniche on Friday.
“It’s basically half the recovery time. But not only am I back, but I’m going alright too. It was a straightforward day. Another day in the bag which is nice.”
The prognosis looked bleak, but by November he was back aboard his bike. In December he linked up with Team Sky at a training camp. And by January he confirmed his readiness to return to action, and settled upon the Abu Dhabi Tour as the starting point for his 2018 campaign.
Rowe admitted he had the best care and support during and after his ordeal, but that he wouldn’t have returned so soon without plenty of will and hard work.
“It’s a mix of everything as to why I’m back so soon,” he said.
“I’ve had the best of the best. Everything around me has been the best of the best, the staff, equipment, but the most important thing is you’ve got to put the work in. Your body isn’t going to heal itself, you have to help it, so it’s a mix. I haven’t really done anything special to be here.”
Just touched down in Abu Dhabi. Looking forward to pinning a number on months before I thought it would be possible, mega 👌🏻 https://t.co/LsmGAPLIyN— Luke Rowe (@LukeRowe1990) 19 February 2018
Going forward Rowe could find himself among Sky’s cobbled Classics team. He led the group over previous seasons alongside Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas, Michal Kwiatkowski and Gianni Moscon.
In 2017, he placed sixth in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and third in third in the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the early Belgian Classics, which take place this weekend.
In 2016, he was sixth in the Tour of Flanders. However, he is not yet calling up the team to reserve a spot for him on the roster. In fact, his schedule right now extends only as far as the final day of the Tour on Sunday.