After a rocky beginning to his relationship with the Australian national time trial championship, including a heavy crash in 2014 that left him with a permanent scar, Rohan Dennis has well and truly made the title his own.
For three years running, the BMC rider has started the 40.9km out and back course in Buninyong as the favourite and duly delivered. On Thursday, he also started as the fourth rider capable of claiming a third straight green and gold jersey, following Caleb Ewan in the criterium, Callum Scotson in U23 men's time trial, and Katrin Garfoot in the women's time trial. Like the trio before him, Dennis achieved the hat-trick.
"It is more of a pride thing to come here, win it and wear it for the rest of the year. It is an honour more than anything," said Dennis with the green and gold jersey on his shoulders.
Dennis is starting his sophomore year of his four-year GC project in 2018, but the 27-year-old has continued to excel against the clock in that period. While luck continues to desert him on the big stage, Dennis hasn't lost a time trial he's started in a stage race since stage 7a of the 2016 Tour of Britain, where he finished second having won the road stage in the morning.
With the Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race next on the agenda, Dennis will not have another short at time trial glory until Tirreno-Adriatico, where he will prepare for the 2018 Giro d'Italia.
Targeting the Giro d'Italia
Dennis' main goal for the season is to ride for GC at the Italian Grand Tour. The Giro starts with a 9.7km time trial in Jerusalem and provides him with an early opportunity to take time over his climbing rivals and claim the maglia rosa.
A win in Israel is not Dennis' priority, however, as he is keen to have his best legs for the arduous final week in the Alps. Like Tom Dumoulin in 2017, Dennis is hoping his time trial prowess can assist in victory but it won't be the only string to his bow .
"It is but I also don't want to be flying for a time trial and then come to the mountains just bomb out," Dennis said of the opportunity to take the first maglia rosa of the race.
"It would be great to start off on a high and it just gives that bit more of confidence. It is not the be all and end all if I do get it. But it is a key point of the Giro where I can get vital seconds against some of these climbers.”
Of the six Grand Tours that Dennis has started, he has finished just one, the 2015 Tour de France, when he set a record speed in the opening time trial to claim the yellow jersey. Since that halcyon summer, illness have resulted in three abandons to Dennis’ name in Grand Tours, but the disappointments have not quelled his desire for three-week success.
On BMC's long list for the Tour de France, Dennis' race programme and accompanying aims are currently undecided and dependent on the first half of the season. Despite mechanicals and misfortune, Dennis has still managed to finish in the top eight at the last four editions of the Worlds time trial. And in 2018, the quest for the gold medal continues, with the Innsbruck Worlds set to be his focus in the latter part of the year.
"I will obviously be aiming to pull on the rainbow jersey come September, that is another big goal for me," he said.
One time trial that Dennis will forgo is a home Commonwealth Games in April. Dennis was a silver medallist in Glasgow four years ago, but the April time slot clashes with his Giro d'Italia preparation. Given his plan to race for eight more seasons, Dennis is sure to have future opportunities for Commonwealth Games gold. A shot at a Grand Tour podium, though, is the more pressing matter.