Rohan Dennis is set to line out alongside Vincenzo Nibali at the Tour de France in 2019, his debut season at Bahrain-Merida. The time trial world champion last rode the Grande Boucle in 2016 and instead competed at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España in each of his final two years at BMC.
Following the Rio 2016 Olympics, Dennis set himself the objective of exploring his potential as a general classification contender, and he was handed a protected role by BMC at the Giro. After being forced out by a crash in the opening week in 2017, Dennis performed solidly to place 16th overall at the corsa rosa this year, wearing the pink jersey and winning the stage 16 time trial along the way.
Dennis acknowledged that he would not be afforded the same freedom on a Tour team led by Nibali, but his likely role as a deluxe domestique nonetheless tallies with his long-term plans to continue his improvement as a stage race rider.
“With Bahrain, Nibali’s the guy and I may have to take a bit of a backseat role, but I haven’t lost focus on eventually riding for GC,” Dennis told Cyclingnews at a team training camp in Hvar, Croatia this week. “I look at guys like Geraint Thomas or Richie Porte, who were working for Wiggins and Froome. They were the last guys in the mountains for one of those guys, so maybe that’s the step I need to take before I go for GC myself.
Dennis will play a pivotal role in Bahrain-Merida’s effort in the stage 2 team time trial in Brussels, but the Australian also plans on being among Nibali’s key supporting riders in the high mountains. Nibali confirmed this week that he will attempt the Giro-Tour double in 2019. Dennis has competed in the Tour on three previous occasions, claiming the yellow jersey after winning the opening time trial in Utrecht in 2015.
“Anything can happen in the Tour,” Dennis said. “We need to be making sure Nibali isn’t losing time in the team time trial, but I’ll also be trying to make sure I’m there late in every climbing stage.”
Dennis will begin his 2019 season on January 8, when he looks to defend his time trial title at the Australian Championships in Ballarat, an event that will serve as the first competitive test of his new time trial bike.
“I’d like to win that race. I won’t wear the jersey, at least not in Europe, but that’s the way it is. It’s also a chance to test the bike and all the equipment, see what needs to be improved and what doesn’t,” Dennis said. “That’s goal number one.”
The Tour Down Under then follows, where Dennis will line up alongside Domenico Pozzovivo and another new arrival, sprinter Phil Bauhaus. After riding the UAE Tour in February, he is due to make his European debut at Tirreno-Adriatico in March.
Dennis has yet to shore up the remainder of his initial schedule with Bahrain-Merida management. The Tour of the Basque Country and an appearance at the Ardennes Classics are both possibilities in May, though participation at the Tour of California - where he placed second overall in 2014 and 2016 - is rather more certain.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure about my racing programme after Tirreno other than the Tour de France and the Tour of California,” Dennis said.