2015 Tour Down Under champion Rohan Dennis has reiterated that he is fully behind BMC teammate Richie Porte's bid for the ochre jersey. Dennis, 26, was BMC's 'plan b' in 2015 with Cadel Evans the main man but victory at Paracombe set up overall victory.
The challenging finish returns in 2017 but Dennis is adamant the conditions and scenario are a far cry from two years prior when he ran away with his first WorldTour stage race victory.
"I am not here to take the leadership, that is on Richie's shoulders," Dennis told reporters of his approach to the race which he will start for a sixth time. "Richie is the leader, just put that out there, straight away. I know that is going to be the question, so was Cadel in 2015 but to be honest, he is here to win and we are here to support him."
With a shorter off-season than previous years, Dennis' weight is down by almost three kilos as he also begins his quest to transition into a bona fide general classification contender in the Grand Tours. Dennis will be riding in support of Tejay van Garderen at the Giro d'Italia while also testing the waters with his own aspirations. The Tour Down Under is an important race in the overall context of the season and Dennis' approach of balancing those dual roles.
"I have to have him in my mind as the number one leader, but I have to be a tiny bit selfish in a sense that I can't be riding the front and absolutely blowing my doors off to help him win," said Dennis of how to support Porte. "I have to use my energy to help him win but be careful just in case something does go wrong with him so I am not throwing everything out the window. I am a plan b."
Knowing that he first has to earn the respect from his teammates before taking on leadership roles at stage races, Dennis' personal ambitions will come later in the year and for now, is happy to play 'second fiddle'. With the the successful defence his his national time trial, Dennis is ready and raring for his first road race of 2017.
The Tour Down Under's Stage 2 to Paracombe is widely regarded as the most importance in this year's race due to its hilltop finish and how it will shape the four stages that follow. An Adelaide local, Dennis' knowledge of the roads and weather conditions is as good as anyone in the peloton but he wouldn't be drawn into providing a 'how to win on Paracombe' for his rivals.
"This year is also a little bit different lead in into with five Stirling's and we have to go over the top of Mt Lofty and also up the gorge behind so it is a different race," said Dennis, who added that knowing the wind conditions was key his stage win. "In 2015, it wasn't that hard a course then it was a different run in to it. You can come in a little bit fresher and not be a pure climber to win."
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