Rohan Dennis has confirmed his 2018 focus on the Giro d'Italia, reaffirming his commitment to his four-year general classification plan. The Australian on BMC was forced to abandon the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana this season due to injury and illness. However, Dennis helped NCM to the opening team time trial win at the Vuelta to pull on the first red leader's jersey of the race.
Despite the Grand Tour setbacks of 2017, the 27-year-old still enjoyed a successful season with a second national time trial title, overall La Provence victory, two stage wins and second at Tirreno-Adriatico, and stages at Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, Tour of the Alps, and Tour de Suisse. Speaking at the BMC Racing Team camp in Denia, Spain, Dennis outlined his GC aspirations and stated his intent to regain the Hour Record title.
"GC is still a goal of mine. It is one of four years I have done that I have set out to try and target being a GC rider," Dennis told reporters. "I keep saying that if it doesn't work out after four years, that is fine. I'll go back to know what I am really good at, time trilling and one-week tours. Hopefully, I can pick up at least one, if I can get one I'll try to get more world titles, in the time trial. That would be great. Once again, GC, I don't care what Grand Tour it is. All of them are just as special as one another."
From six previous Grand Tours, the 2014 Vuelta a España where he was 84th overall is Dennis's best GC result. Dennis' second-place finish at Tirreno-Adriatico in the spring, and his overall Tour Down Under, USA Pro Challenge, La Provence and Tour of Alberta wins point to his general classification capabilities. Looking to emulate the success of fellow Chrono specialists Tom Dumoulin and Bradley Wiggins and win a Grand Tour, Dennis has high hopes for the 2018 Giro. But unsure of the team selection just yet, he isn't targetting the top step of the podium in Rome just yet.
"I am actually not sure. I have asked to be in the Giro and as a goal to be there for GC but I am actually not sure who is going," he said. "I don't know what other people have in mind or we haven't spoken about other people's goals for the Giro but I know mine is GC. The team didn't fight me on that so there should be some support there for me but whether that is one guy or seven, there is eight of us in total. Anything I will take and I will use what I have and hopefully that is enough."
Dennis' programme through to the Giro, he is a reserve for "everything" after the Italian Grand Tour, will start on home soil with the targets of the time trial title and helping Richie Porte defend his Tour Down Under title. The most important date of the early-season though for Dennis will be his wedding before resuming racing at Tirreno, Catalunya and then "possibly Romandie" before the Israel Grand Partenza of the Giro.
While the Giro's Israel start has been a major talking point of the off-season, Dennis isn't fazed.
"I couldn't really care. I am sure it is going to be safe," he said of the start in Israel. "Supposedly the pope is invited and if he is there will be plenty security. I don't think we are the biggest stars if he is there. So they will be targeting someone else. Not the riders I think. I honestly think it will be safe.
"You could say why does the Giro leave Italy at all? It is the tour of Italy. Same with the Tour de France and the Vuelta. If you really want to say it shouldn't leave, it shouldn't leave at all not to Spain, not to England, not to Israel. That is my point of view."
Dennis' focus has instead been on adjusting his training methods to more of an "old-school style" as he continues his physiology transformation into a GC contender.
"I am doing a little less intensity. I am still putting it in but trying to build that base. A little bit more old school training at the moment," he said, explaining the challenges of his transformation.
"Maintaining power after five hours is the main thing I think. Weight is obviously a factor but if you lose too much weight then get sick or lose your power it is a big issue. I think the main thing is building up that strength so your threshold doesn't fade too much after four or five hours. It is fairly similar from the first hour to the fourth or fifth. I think that is a big factor in becoming a GC rider for three weeks or even one-week you get tested a bit but the third week is another beast."
Aware of the colder weather the Giro can expereince compared to the Tour of Vuelta, Dennis added that won't be dropping too much weight.
"With the Giro, it can be cold. I am not sure it is a really good idea to get super lean when you are going to the Dolomites or Italian Alps and it can possibly be bad weather," he said, adding his lightest weight as professional was '69-70' kilograms.
"I think it can be a gamble to go into it what you would as Tour de France lean. It could pay off if it is not bad weather like this year but I think it can bring you undone if it is bad weather and you get sick. It is a gamble I think."
Crashing out the Giro before any major mountains were climbed, Dennis explained there were still important lessons learned while watching the race once back home.
"I have to point to how Dumoulin raced and how smart it was. He raced it not just physically but mentally as well," he said. "He stayed positive not matter what actually happened during the stage. They lost Wilco on stage eight or nine with the moto crash that obviously would have hurt him and the team. They all regrouped and worked out and figured the loss they had and how to fix it. Then also, we can all joke about it, the toilet incident. I thought he lost the Giro that day and he didn't. He kept his head on and he fought all the way to the bottom of the Stelvio all by himself with no help and it was more of a mental battle for him. You have to be strong in the third and fourth hour but also that mental side of it is a big factor as well."
A rider with similar capabilities who also embarked on a multi-year project to target Grand Tour success, Dennis added that Dumoulin's win gives him confidence in his own opporunities.
"We are similar riders and he just tried, he is a GC rider, a couple of years before me. It gives me a little bit of confidence. Wiggins as well if you really want to put him into it being a pure time trialler and being a Tour de France champion, world champion time trailer. He got third in the Vuelta as well. It is possible with the type of rider I am to be good in a Grand Tour."
Between 2009 and 2012, Dennis was part of the Australian team pursuit squad that won two World titles, silver at the London Olympic Games and two silver medals at the Worlds. He returned the track in 2015 to set the Hour Record which was subsequently broken by Alex Dowsett and Bradley Wiggins. Dennis has previously spoken of his desire to try for the record again, confirming he wants to make two attempts before he retires at 35.
"Not until I am in my thirties I think. I have other things I want to do on the road first and then maybe early 30s I'd like to have a go at it maybe two more times," he said. "If it is possible to break it at sea level I want to go to altitude and try make it unbeatable. The main goal is to go to sea level and make it an even playing field with Wiggo. If I can't, so be it."
Explaining that his full-time move into the road was "to be responsible for my own results", Dennis left open the possibility for a return to the team pursuit later in his career. However, it would not be a completely straightforward affair.
"I want to finish my career when I am 35. Whether I get a contract until then, who knows," he said. "The problem is that the next Olympics after Tokyo is when I am 34 and that would leave me without a contract when I am 35 and 34 because I will be on the track. That sort of puts my plan in jeopardy a little bit. Unless things are going really rough in the road and I just want to do something a little less stressful and more fun, I won't go back for the Olympics on the track. Maybe the Commonwealth Games are a one-year thing after I finish in the road."
Asked if would consider returning to the track earlier in the year, Dennis further outlined that day-in-day-out training on the track is a major turn off. But the road simply doesn't match the "excitement of being on the track" and left open the possibility of finishing his career in the velodrome.
"It is four minutes of pure noise with four guys going all in and when it goes right, the team time trial doesn't feel anywhere near as special as the teams pursuit unfortunately when everything goes right," he said. "The problem is the training. The laps on the track. Just doing the same thing over and over for years as a team, you just want to blow your brains out. It is a mental battle and if I was to do it, I wouldn't do a four-year prep into an Olympics. I'd want to do one or two years and maximum two. Going into London was testing enough."