Ochowicz: Dennis has so much potential, he can do anything

BMC Racing boss on Australian's Grand Tour prospects

The fine line between harnessing immense talent and temperament and letting it slip through your fingers is almost impossible to manage. Every athlete, every competition and dynamic differ, and what works for one rider can have the exact opposite effect on another.

Jim Ochowicz has ruled the roost over his fair share of high-strung riders over the years, but in Rohan Dennis, he perhaps has one of the roughest diamonds in the modern peloton – a rider who Ochowicz describes as having the ability and promise to achieve anything he sets his mind to.

At 26, Dennis is still developing, but his growing palmares is impressive, with two world titles, a stage win and day in yellow at the Tour de France, a Tour Down Under overall victory, and two stages at the Tour of California to his name. This year the Australian will be given a free role at the Giro d'Italia where the BMC Racing Team will set the bar high in a bid to see just what is under Dennis' hood over three weeks. It promises to be the hardest test of the rider's career to date.

"Rohan has probably more talent than most people would give him credit for," Ochowicz tells Cyclingnews at the Tour Down Under.

"He's already proven that he can time trial, but he's not been tested yet in a Grand Tour from start to finish. This is a learning curve he's going through."

Dennis path in professional cycling is well documented. He moved into the WorldTour ranks with Garmin-Sharp after taking silver in the team pursuit in the Olympics in 2012, and he immediately shone the following year when he pulled on yellow at the Criterium du Dauphine, briefly duelling with Chris Froome et al. A Tour spot followed, but 18 months later he became the first mid-season transfer in modern history when he switched to BMC Racing ahead of the Vuelta a Espana.

Allan Peiper, who helped draw Dennis to Garmin in the first place, and then left for BMC, was certainly a major factor in the move, but Garmin were certainly willing to hold the door open as Dennis packed his bags. The romance from the first season had faded after a dispute at the 2014 Tour of California, which according to the then-team boss, Jonathan Vaughters, boiled down to a tactical disagreement.

"We'd finished second place in California about five years in a row. Which I was sick of, and so were the sponsors. The last day was on a hilly circuit where we almost toppled Mick Rogers on a few years back, so I really pushed the team to try and shake up the last day to see if we could get Wiggins to crack," Vaughters recounts.

"Rohan was not having it at all. He wanted the team to protect his second place, rather than risk it all in a last day attack. And to be fair, it was a big risk. We were at odds, and it was never the same after that."

Fast forward to 2017 and Dennis is still headstrong, still unpolished, but still with all the physical tools of a world class athlete.

"I think he can do anything he wants," Ochowicz adds.

"Look, it's too easy to say he could win the Tour de France but I think he's an incredible athlete with a huge engine. He still needs to learn how to race because he lost Eneco Tour last year because of a crash, and those are things you have to learn."

Rohan Dennis (BMC) keeps white leader's jersey

More emotional, like Cadel

Ochowicz admits that Dennis can be emotional at times, perhaps a modest way of saying that feelings can sometimes rise to the top with him when the pressure is on. When asked if temperament is something that needs to be managed with Dennis he agrees, before adding, "I'm used to that. Spirited riders are generally good leaders because they have emotion. All I can say is that the most emotional rider I ever worked with was Cadel. He had a spirit and a mindset. When he had a plan, you'd need to get behind that plan and then keep things in order, because the emotions are rich with spirit."

Ochowicz certainly had a point. At times, for all his talent on the bike, Evans could let his emotions boil over. Fans admire that quality, of course, while it must be remembered that it was Ochowicz who got the best out of Evans, no more so than in 2011 when the pair created history and Evans became the first Australian to win the Tour.

"I'm not comparing him to Cadel but the spirit is the same in some ways. They're emotional people but performance-wise Rohan is quite young still."

That youthful 'spirit' that Ochowicz describes is part and parcel of Dennis' DNA. At times Ochowicz would argue it can help if it's harnessed and channelled in the right direction.

"There are different levels of spirit, and there are times when different levels are beneficial and then times when it's distractions," he says rather diplomatically.

At the Tour de France last year, for example, Dennis officially left the race to concentrate on the Olympics. He worked his socks off for the team until that point but at a certain point his aims of winning a medal in the time trial were being eroded by the work he was doing on the front of the race.

"I can't give you examples, but in a 23-day race you're dealing with emotions all the time."

Dennis pulled out on the second rest day.

"It was just after that, and again you take that as part of the emotion. It was before we went to Bern and you know when it's enough. When a rider gets to the point where he's fatigued. He had goals for later. At that point, we weren't racing to win the Tour."

Rohan Dennis (Australia)

Giro-bound

This season Dennis will head to the Giro d'Italia with a free role. Again, Ochowicz will be challenged as he looks to keep GC leader Tejay van Garderen wrapped in cotton wool while ensuring that Dennis can do his thing without diverting energy away from Van Garderen's cause.

Ochowicz is quick to point out, however, that this is not the same scenario as last year when Van Garderen and Richie Porte vied for leadership and, by the American's honest admission, van Garderen let the rivalry get inside his head.

"Rohan is going to have the chance to ride with less obligation to Tejay than the others," Ochowicz says. "It's a bit premature to have a strict line in terms of what everyone else will do, but Tejay is going as our team captain, and the team is there to support his effort. Rohan is going to float, and we want to get him through a Grand Tour setting where he can really test himself.

"Rohan and Tejay have never had conflicts with each other. They're different people, certainly and Rohan can be a little more emotional, but Tejay has managed a team in a Grand Tour, Rohan hasn't done that. He's done it in week-long races, but it's not the same thing."

Dennis's palmares already has week-long stage races within it. The next step is the Giro d'Italia where we could all find out just how good he can be. It's up to Ochowicz, and of course the rider himself, to make sure that the fine line between harnessing immense talent and temperament is kept.

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