It will feel a little different on Saturday afternoon, of course, when he hurtles through the streets of Utrecht with only hundreds and thousands of fans and a television audience of millions for company, but Rohan Dennis will hope that a dawn reconnaissance mission in May will pay dividends as he tackles the opening time trial of the Tour de France on Saturday afternoon.
"I think it was a 5am wake-up, which was a bit rough the day after the Tour of Belgium, but it meant that I got to see it with next to no traffic, and since then, I've had a video of it and I've looked over it," Dennis told reporters in Utrecht on Friday. "I checked it out again yesterday just to refresh the memory, because the video and real life can look a little different."
In Utrecht this week, Dennis' name has not been cited with quite the same frequency as those of Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin and local favourite Tom Dumoulin, but the Australian has devoted the middle section of his season to preparing for the first 13.8 kilometres of the Tour and, as he showed in breaking the Hour Record in February, he is well-versed in the art of building to a longstanding goal.
"This whole season I've prepared for this time trial, and every time trial I've gone into this year, whether I'm tired or fresh, I've gone at 100 percent, just to learn more about my body," he said. "Things have come along really well. At the Dauphiné in the team time trial I felt super strong and since then all I've been doing is preparing for stage 1 and the team time trial on stage 9."
Dry roads and temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius are anticipated on Saturday, and Dennis does not believe that the course is technical enough to allow an agile bike-handler to steal a march on the pure time triallists.
"It's not super long and it's not short and technical, so we won't have any surprises, like a non-time trial specialist who takes risks around corners and wins the stage," Dennis said. "It's pretty quick and free-flowing. There are a couple of corners but I think the strongest and most powerful guy on the day is going to win."
Indeed, on arrival in Utrecht, Dennis was pleased to find that the parcours was even more straightforward than he had recalled. Rather than demanding repeated accelerations and decelerations, he reckoned the course would require a sustained pace – ideal, then, for a man with a track pedigree.
"I went and did it again yesterday and the corners were actually faster than I'd thought they were and that was probably a bonus," he said. "That's going to keep the effort a little bit more even. There's going to be less acceleration and it's going to be all about pacing and not going out too hard."
Dennis' final reconnaissance will come on closed roads on Saturday morning. For now, only the start and finish area has been barriered off, and the Australian is mindful that a time trial can change its guise subtly once all of the barriers and advertising hoardings have been laid out along the course.
"Obviously that could change things on the corners, so it's important to see it before the race," said Dennis, who will be the 38th rider down the start ramp on Saturday and will expect to set the provisional quickest time at that point at the very least.
"I opted to go early to get it over and done with it as quickly as possible, and then I can relax. I don't want to be sitting on the bus for three hours twiddling my thumbs and getting more nervous about it," he said.
Regardless of how he fares in the time trial, however, Dennis' duties to the cause will not finish in Utrecht. BMC has included a sizeable chunk of its Classics unit in the Tour selection in order to marshal Tejay van Garderen through the tough opening week, while Dennis will be expected to be to the fore in the team time trial on stage 9.
"When my job is done each day in the first week, I'll try to hold back and conserve my energy for the team time trial. But if my services are needed and someone else can't do their job, I'll put my hand up and step up," he said.
"Once the time trials are over, my main goal will be to switch to a climber's role, and hopefully I can be there for Tejay when it's crunch time and not just help him to the bottom of the climbs and then get dropped."
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