A former world champion in the velodrome, Rohan Dennis has steadily improved as an all-rounder since setting his sights on the road. Having joined BMC Racing towards the end of the 2014 season, the 26-year-old Australian has captured a GC win at his home WorldTour stage race, the Tour Down Under, a well as a time trial victory and a brief stint in yellow at the Tour de France, among other notable results.
At BMC's training camp in Spain last week, Dennis outlined his programme for 2017 – which includes taking a freelancer approach to the Giro d'Italia, where Tejay van Garderen will lead the team – and his plan for developing into a Grand Tour contender
"I look at it as a four-year process," Dennis said. "In four years I want to be up towards the pointy end. If I'm not but I can still see the light in the tunnel, I'll keep down this road.
"If I can't, if it's like I'm fighting a battle I'm never going to win, then I'll go back to what I know I'm good at, week-long tours and time trialing, which I think BMC is pretty happy with, to help me try to develop into this GC rider. Worst case, I win a couple of races along the way, maybe they'll say 'you didn't live up to expectations, we'll pay you less,' and they'll get me for cheaper. And that's a win for them!" he joked.
"I don't want to finish my career with 'what if I tried that?' That's a big goal of mine, to podium or obviously I'd love to win a grand tour. But if I got to the end of my career at 35 – hopefully I make it there – and I don't try it, then it doesn't matter if I've won an Olympic gold, I'll still be thinking, 'What if I tried to win one? Would I have been able to do it or would have just fallen down and not achieved it?' I don't want that in my head."
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"I know I can learn a lot from them in the way to be a leader. I haven't been in a grand tour looking out for myself," he said. "I've sort of just stuck to what I knew I had to do and did my job. So I'll be able to learn a lot throughout the Giro. If I fall on my ass in three weeks, well, oh well, it's the first crack at looking after yourself and no doubt it's not going to go 100% my way."
His time trial win at the 2015 Tour de France provided Dennis with confidence to contend against the WorldTour's top talents, and he's taking that confidence forward as he hopes to improve as a climber while maintaining his time trial ability.
Focusing on improving as a three-week racer means putting other goals on hold for now. Dennis held the world Hour Record from February of 2015 until it was broken by Alex Dowsett, whose mark was then bested by Bradley Wiggins. Although he wants to take a shot at reclaiming the title, Dennis plans to wait at least four years before returning down that path.
Wiggins, himself a track-star-turned-Grand-Tour-contender, is a rider Dennis hopes he can emulate.
"To be honest, he was what, 82 kilo on the track? Pure track rider. Really wasn't looked at as ever going to be a GC rider, probably just a pure time trialist. Somehow he just pulled it together and put his head down for four years or so," Dennis said. "I think I'm obviously not at that level where I can just ride within myself and still be second on the mountain, but I think there's no reason I can't do the same as him.
"I was never 82 kilo. Well I've been close a couple of times, it depends what time of year," he said with another laugh. "I think it's not going to be easy, but it's definitely possible for my physiological makeup."
Dennis will open his 2017 campaign with the Australian national championships, the Tour Down Under, and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Then he'll head to Europe, where he expects to race a largely Italian programme, potentially including Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Alps (formerly the Giro del Trentino) leading into his run at the Giro d'Italia and possibly a start at the Tour de France.