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Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) celebrates his stage win in Tour of California
Tour of California performance a confidence boost for Australian
After finishing second at the Tour of California this week behind winner Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), Garmin-Sharp's Rohan Dennis said he hopes to ride his second Grand Tour later this year. Whether that his first three-week race of 2014 comes at the Tour de France or the Vuelta a Espana is yet to be determined, but Dennis said he is looking forward to the challenge whenever or wherever it comes.
"It will be one of those two," Dennis said. "If it isn't the Tour it will be the Vuelta, which means unfortunately I won't be here for Utah or Colorado. But the Tour is definitely not out of the question yet. That's the goal — whether I do the Tour or the Vuelta — to finish it somewhat not buckled."
The 23-year-old Australian, who rode with Rabobank's development team in 2011 and Team Jayco-AIS in 2013, signed with Garmin-Sharp last year and took his first overall win in a professional stage race at the 2013 Tour of Alberta. Dennis forced his way into Garmin's Tour team last year after a strong showing at June’s Critérium du Dauphiné.
He finished second overall at the five-day Circuit Cycliste Sarthe-Pays de la Loire this year after coming in as runner-up during that race's individual time trial. He also finished second in the time trial stage of the Criterium International. He was runner-up again during the prologue time trial at Tour de Romandie.
Dennis catapulted to the top of the general classification in California with another runner-up performance during the stage 2 individual time trial in Folsom, where he finished 44 seconds behind Wiggins. He carved another 20 seconds out of Wiggins' advantage with a winning attack in the final kilometers of the climb up Mt. Diablo during stage 3, but he lost six seconds to Wiggins on the stage 6 climb to Mountain High. He eventually finished 30 seconds down on the 2012 Tour de France winner.
Dennis said he came into the race as a potential team leader for Garmin, along with Tom Danielson and Janier Acevedo. When those two climbing specialists lost more than two minutes in the time trial, he accepted the mantel of leadership.
Dennis also grabbed the leadership role in Alberta with a second-place finish to Peter Sagan, coming in 18 seconds behind the Cannondale rider during the Canadian race's prologue. He jumped into the overall race lead on a windblown stage 3 that was ripped apart by crosswinds.
Dennis made the front echelon of 17 riders that powered away from the field and eventually put more than 16 minutes into the peloton. In the stage finale, he beat BMC's Brent Bookwalter in a six-up sprint that also included Belkin's Robert Gesink, Cannondale's Damiano Caruso, Argos-Shimano's Patrick Gretsch and BMC's Steve Morabito. Then he held on for two more stages to seal the deal.
"Not to take anything away from that tour, but this is probably more established and higher quality all around," Dennis said in California. "We've got Bradley here and Cavendish, Peter Stetina, Lawson [Craddock]. The list goes on and on. So, really, to get second here is probably more of an achievement for myself."
Dennis said his result this past week gives him more confidence heading into the rest of the season.
"Especially after Diablo," he said. "Usually I wouldn't really get to the top. I'd blow two or three kilometers before the whole of last year. Now I was able to stay there and actually do something at the finish and pull it off. It shows that things are possible in the future in WorldTour races with guys like this."
But does the young rider believe he can develop to the point of being a general classification contender in the Tour de France?
"Obviously, there are a few more years that I need to get under my belt," he said. "I'm good at one week and maybe a week and a half, but it's another huge step up to be able to do three weeks. I think the first goal is to actually finish a Grand Tour."