Bahrain Merida have insisted that Rohan Dennis will not be put under pressure to chase GC results in Grand Tours during his first two seasons at the team. Team manager Brent Copeland has stressed that Dennis will be given the full backing to challenge for the Olympic Games in 2020, where he will be hoping to win the road time trial. Dennis signed a multiple-year contract with Bahrain Merida during the summer and is also likely to start the Tour de France in 2019.
"We've discussed ideas with our new head of performance on our team, David Bailey, and it will probably mean that Rohan does the Tour de France," Copeland told Cyclingnews, before adding that final race schedules for his riders would not be announced until the team's December training camp in Croatia.
Dennis targeted the Giro d'Italia this year and wore the maglia rosa for several days, won a stage, and finished 16th overall. He was within the top ten until the final two mountain stages. He bookended his campaign with two stages at the Giro d'Italia before claiming his maiden elite road title in the time trial. According to Copeland a Giro return is unlikely due to the nature of the Grand Tour profiles.
"At the Tour there's a TT in there for him, the TTT and it's good preparation for the Worlds. We still have to sit down and finalise that with him but it's not really a GC plan at the moment."
Dennis has made no secret of his plan to one day challenge for major Grand Tour honours but he has insisted that he will take a pragmatic and steady approach to his development as a stage racer. Copeland reiterated those sentiments, stressing that the Australian had time on his side before fully concentrating on three-week racing.
"In order to go for GC he'd have to change his entire training and weight. When we brought him onto the team we agreed that there would be no pressure to chase GC from the start. We have a number of riders who can do that next year with the likes of Vincenzo, Teuns and Pozzovivo. We're happy to support Dennis, and at the moment his plan is to focus on time trials until the Olympic Games in 2020 and then have more of a focus on GC."
When Dennis does fully concentrate on grand tours he will understandably need to change his training and race programme. Copeland believes that the Australian has the engine required and that if he can shed some of the muscle that has carried him to time trial success then he can compete with the world's best.
"If you look at his weight, he's around 72kg. That's what he was at the Giro this year. If drops to the high 60s, and keeps the same characteristics then he's the same as Thomas, Dumoulin or Froome."
Bahrain Merida's current GC leader, Vincenzo Nibali, has not yet announced his race programme. The Italian media have suggested that he could compete at both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in 2019, although Copeland was keen to stress that no decision had been made.
"We still need to sit down with Vincenzo. He was away in Zanzibar and went from there to Saitama and then from there to London for two days of events with Bahrain. He only returned home late last night, so in truth we've not had a chance to sit down with him and go through what his ideas and thoughts are on the routes. There's no final decision yet."
"Vincenzo is such a complete rider, and both the routes have elements that really suit him. It's a difficult one to call but he doesn't go to races like the Giro or the Tour just to train. He goes there to win stages or win the race overall."