Australia's Rohan Dennis (BMC) cleverly netted the leader's pink jersey on stage 2 of this Giro d'Italia, having just missed out in the opening time trial won by defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). Dennis then held the lead for four days, and in doing so completed the set of having held all three leader's jerseys from each of the Grand Tours.
Dennis' main aim, however, had always been to continue on his journey of trying to develop into a Grand Tour contender. And while in addition to having held the race lead, Dennis powered to a not wholly unexpected win during the stage 16 time trial, the 28-year-old came away satisfied with what he learned, and hoping that what he and the team achieved may now help the BMC set-up to find a new sponsor and be able to continue into 2019 and beyond.
"In the end, it was a big step forward for me and I got a lot of confidence out of this," Dennis told Cyclingnews at the end of the Giro in Rome on Sunday. "The last two days – we won't count today – were probably just a little bit too much. I dropped down to sixth place overall from 13th place on the stage that Chris Froome [Team Sky] won [stage 19 over the Colle delle Finestre on Friday], but that was just a massive day. You've seen a couple of guys come unstuck since that stage, and I can hold my head high after this Grand Tour, I think. Not one day has been easy."
Dennis described regularly seeing his name in the top 20 on the results sheet day after day as a "massive, massive confidence boost" but said that he's finished the race hungry for more.
"When I won the TT stage, I thought, "OK, this is great," but I wanted to win by more. Obviously trying to finish in the top 10 overall at this race was a big goal, but I didn't think about it too much, and just took it day by day. I did think, though, that it was possible.
"In the end, it was a little bit too much," said Dennis, who finished 16th overall in Rome, 56:07 behind Giro winner Froome. "But I think after this I've learned a lot about how to prepare – about what I need to do to look after myself better during the race. Basically, I just need to try to do everything a little bit better, and be a little more focused. And I could probably lose some weight, to be completely honest with you – but I wasn't trying to push that limit this time. I think staying healthy and staying strong was a bigger thing for me."
While some would point out that the Tour de France with, generally, more time-trialling and climbs that aren't quite as steep as those found at the Giro might suit Dennis better, the Australian agreed, but pointed out that the 2017 Giro would have suited him better, too.
"The Tour is another completely different race again. You need to have a full team behind you, and it's usually less open. But at last year's Giro I think there was 70km of time trialling, and this year here, OK, there was 45km, so there was still some time trialling, but in the end it's just a few minutes' difference compared to what I could have gained last year," he said of the race that he crashed out of with concussion last year, which was won by reigning time trial world champion Dumoulin, who finished second overall to Froome on Sunday.
"I think at the Tour the climbs are a little steadier – not like the Zoncolan [on stage 14], which is just stupid, and the Finestre [stage 19], which is also stupid! But it's the same for everybody. I think learning at a race that is a little more open and a little less controlled is probably the best way."
When it comes to the BMC team, which faces an uncertain future, despite rumours during this Giro that it could be saved, Dennis remains hopeful that something definitive will soon be able to be announced.
"I hope there's something. I'm hoping the team survives. There's nothing worse than the situation at the moment when there are 60 to 80 people in the team that will have to look for a new job," he said. "That's never nice, and that's never good for the sport, either. It's a big team and it's a great team. Fortunately, for me, I've got some good results and I'll find a team, but to be honest I don't know if that team, wherever I go if BMC fold, is going to be as suited to me as BMC is. It's always an unknown, and I just hope that if it is the case [that I have to go somewhere else], that it's a good outcome. That's all I can really ask for.
"We've done everything we possibly could," Dennis said when asked if his stage win and time in the pink jersey might have helped the team's cause. "If a sponsor doesn't want to come on board with our team, then it's really their loss. We've shown that we're good from the start to the finish of every season. We get results throughout the year – and not just small ones, either. I think any sponsor would be lucky to have us."