Australian under 23 road and time trial champion Rohan Dennis (Jayco-AIS) created history last week, becoming the first Australian to win the International Thüringen Tour in Germany. His victory comes during a hectic season, splitting duties between road and the track in the lead up to the London Olympic Games where he'll line up for Australia in the team pursuit.
"I think it was probably the best thing for me," he told Cyclingnews following his victory in the seven-stage event. "The Olympics will be a lot more stressful but it's something to get me used to it."
Dennis' road to the race lead was far from easy, having missed out on a targeted win in the team time trial which was the event prologue, and the Rabobank Continental squad taking a three second lead. The Australian team had won the opener the previous two years adding to expectations.
"When we didn't win that our director wasn't overly impressed but it was only three seconds so it wasn't too big of a loss," Dennis explained. "We decided to change our plan and try and get some time back on some of the hillier road stages but it just didn't end up that way so we had to put all our eggs in one basket and hope that I had the legs in the time trial to get a big enough lead so that we wouldn't be too stressed about losing it on the last day."
Adding to the pressure was the fact that Dennis had finished third overall at the International Thüringen Tour in 2010. This time around, a 28 second win in the penultimate stage individual time trial was enough for the Adelaide cyclist to take the overall leader's jersey from Moreno Hofland (Rabobank Continental). There were still some nervous moments for the 22-year-old with a day left to race.
"I had been talking to some of the Germans in the race and they said the road stage was the hardest of the tour but the profile said otherwise," Dennis explained. "I was just a little bit worried. At that point I hadn't lost any time on the hills and the time trial was uphill so I had showed that I was one of the best uphill.
"I wasn't getting too ahead of myself because anything could have happened," he continued. "I didn't want to think that I had it all won and nothing was going to go wrong because that's when things seem to go wrong."
Nothing went wrong for Dennis over the 143.2km final stage, holding firm to his 28 second advantage. It was a satisfying win for the Australian, having left the Rabobank Continental squad last season. He landed a ride with the Dutch team following the disappointment of the Pegasus collapse at the end of the 2010 season.
The result was just another in a big year for Dennis, even without his Olympic ambitions on the track, having won the King of the Mountains and Young Rider classifications in the opening World Tour event of the year, the Santos Tour Down Under with the Uni SA – Australia composite team in January. Results of that calibre beg the question, when is it time to concentrate solely on the road?
"There are a few mixed feelings there," Dennis admitted. "I grew up on the track and it's brought me a long way. I wouldn't have got the exposure within cycling if I hadn't done it but in saying that it would be good to finish on a high if we do get the gold in London. I might just call it a day and move on to road and try something different. The plan is probably to do that but you never know. There are guys like Geraint Thomas who have come back to the track and I didn't think he would come back to London after their win in Beijing."
Dennis will clear his head for a while following the Games and then return his focus back to the road with his season set to reach another crescendo with the UCI Road World Championships in the Netherlands, with his focus on the under 23 individual time trial.
"It's another challenge for me," he told Cyclingnews. "I'll be targeting the time trial because I'll have the strength on that position from the track. The road race will be a bit better suited to one of the other guys in the Australian team so I might just help them."