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.”
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