Rohan Dennis was surprised to take the leader's jersey at Tirreno-Adriatico after a late crash delayed teammate Greg Van Avermaet, but the Australian is hoping the blue jersey stays in the BMC family even after Saturday's big mountain finish to Terminillo. Dennis said he is ready to target overall victory if designated team leader Tejay van Garderen is unable to follow the expected attacks from the big-name Grand Tour riders such as Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali and Tom Dumoulin.
Dennis avoided a late crash on stage 3 by squeezing through the riders on the ground. He now leads the overall classification with Van Avermaet, Damiano Caruso and van Garderen all on the same time thanks to BMC's victory in the opening team time trial, and the trio are prepared to use their numbers as an advantage.
"Tejay is our main leader, he's number one. I'm the reserve but Caruso can also be useful. We can be very strong on the climb, with three guys that can do very well. We'll use all three," Dennis explained in the post-stage press conference.
"Ideally Tejay is in the front at the top, but the worst case scenario is that Caruso or I take over and we still have someone in contention and in the lead. Then it comes down to tactics and the final time trial in San Benedetto."
Dennis knows that Tuesday's final 10km time trial on the Adriatic seafront offers him a possibility to pull back some time lost on the stage to Terminillo and after Sunday's stage on the steep climbs of Le Marche.
He is ambitious as he develops and tests his ability as a stage racer, and is determined not to give up a shot at victory this week.
"Even if I lose the jersey and I'm still in contention for overall, then maybe my role will change because of the final time trial. It suits me perfectly, more than most guys in this race. I can take a lot of time out of people like Aru, Nibali and Quintana," Dennis pointed out.
Of the climb to Terminillo, Dennis said, "I'm going to be 100 per cent all the way to the finish, that's what I've got to do now. My goal is to become a three-week Grand Tour leader; it's a different ballgame, now. I can't take it easy up a climb and wait for a stage win."
Grand Tour apprenticeship to continue at the Giro d'Italia
Dennis will flank van Garderen at the Giro d'Italia in May, continuing his Grand Tour apprenticeship.
He has changed and increased his training load as a consequence, hoping to fast track his way to becoming a Grand Tour contender. Tirreno-Adriatico is all part of the learning process.
"It's about using this as a stepping stone to the Giro d'Italia as we go over a lot of roads that replicate what we face in May, so it's perfect preparation for the Giro," Dennis said, explaining why he is so focused on Tirreno-Adriatic this season.
"Most of the time when I've come to Europe, I get dropped and even pull out of races. Now I'm able to do better. I rode well in Provence, and the team helped me win there.
"Now I do maybe a quarter of the time trial work that I normally do, and I do a lot more climbing and more hours on the bike. 75% of my training is more directed to distance and trying to learn how to climb better."
"Now I'm leading Tirreno-Adriatico, and I think my form is quite good. But it's still a little unknown compared to guys who can climb with the best in the world. We'll know tomorrow. I hope it's a good final for BMC and myself."