Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team) knows more than he could ever want to know about mechanical malfunctions in time trials, but while he was hardly unsympathetic to Tom Dumoulin’s plight on stage 4 of the Abu Dhabi Tour, he was just as relieved to have enjoyed a clear run himself.
Saturday's 12.6km test on Al Maryah Island looked like coming down to the finest of margins between the two outstanding time triallists in the field when Dumoulin hurtled through the intermediate time check a mere second ahead of Dennis' provisional best mark.
Dennis was already watching from the hot seat at the finish as Dumoulin looked to maintain his advantage over the back end of the course, but the world time trial champion's challenge came to an abrupt end when he was forced into a bike change due to a problem with the electronics in his rear shifter. A frustrated Dumoulin would cross the finish in 12th place, some 31 seconds down on Dennis, who ultimately took stage victory by 14 seconds from Jonathan Castroviejo (Team Sky).
"Everyone knows all too well that I’ve had my fair share of those sorts of issues and it’s never nice to lose a race because of that," Dennis said. "I still believe I would have won today, it was 31 seconds in the finish and we usually say a bike change is 30 seconds. So if he was one second up then he would have lost two seconds over the second part of the course. I’m not going to say I’m unhappy to win, but it is a shame that somebody loses in that situation."
Beating Dumoulin in a time trial is by no means a novelty for Dennis, who claimed the opening stage of the 2015 Tour de France before enormous crowds in Utrecht, the bulk of whom were very loudly willing their man to be the first Dutch maillot jaune in a quarter of a century. At this point in his career, however, Dennis is more keen to try to match his contemporary’s achievements in harnessing his time trial power in the high mountains of the Grand Tours. He acknowledged, too, that Dumoulin’s calm under fire was something to mimic.
"Everything he’s done is a confidence boost in what’s possible for me," said Dennis, who will target a high overall finish at this year’s Giro d’Italia, where Dumoulin returns as defending champion."I think we’re quite similar as riders, so if someone like him or even someone like Wiggins does it, then a Grand Tour is possible.
"You can see what he did in the Giro. And he also had bad luck in the last week, and had already lost Wilco [Kelderman] in the first week, so he showed that it’s not just about the legs, it’s also about the head and not letting that fall off when things are against you."
Dennis will carry the red jersey of race leader into Sunday’s final stage, which features the one and only climb of the five-day event, the 10.8km haul to Jebel Hafeet. The Australian’s buffer puts him in pole position claim final overall victory, though he is mindful that a number of dangermen remain within striking distance. Dumoulin is hardly out of the picture just yet, and Kelderman is close at hand, but Dennis identified Alejandro Valverde, who lies eighth at 24 seconds, as the rider most likely to divest him of red.
"Let's just say I think Valverde is probably the most threatening rider, from what I saw," Dennis said. "Obviously, Dumoulin is right up there, but I think from what I saw in the crosswinds on stage 2, Valverde is quite strong. And that was on the flat, so if he's looking strong there, then I think he’s quite dangerous on the climbs.
"I think tomorrow is going to be a climb where you can just put down the power, it's not going to be a super technical run-in like Europe. It’s quite a hard climb but more suited to a time trial rider, so we’ll put everything we can into defending this jersey."
Dennis and his teammates must be racing with a degree of uncertainty in the early months of 2018 given that BMC's current commitment to sponsor the team expires at the end of this season, but he would not be drawn on the prospect of having to find a new employer next year.
"I think if anyone’s going to find a sponsor it will be Jim Ochowicz,” Dennis said. “He’s quite good at getting sponsors on board and I think our team has shown we give plenty of exposure to sponsors. [BMC owner] Andy Rihs always said that to sell bikes you need to be in the WorldTour. I hope he still believes that. He’s put a lot of money and work into cycling and we’d hate to see him out of the sport."
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