Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) finished second overall at Tirreno-Adriatico behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar), but his victory in the final time trial and his podium spot marked an important week in his career as he continues a gradual and carefully measured metamorphosis from a time trial specialist to a Grand Tour contender.
Dennis has given himself four years to complete his evolution, deciding to target the Giro d'Italia's maglia rosa and no doubt eventually the yellow jersey at the Tour de France simply because he does not want to end is career with that 'what if' question weighing on his mind. He is ready to work hard and sacrifice an easier career chasing time trial victories so he can measure himself in the biggest races in the sport.
"For me, this is a great step for me to becoming a Grand Tour rider," Dennis said with pride of his second place at Tirreno-Adriatico.
"I honestly didn't come here and think I'd get second overall. It's a big confidence boost. It was a good week for BMC and I was glad I could pay back the team for working for me by taking the stage win and move up to second.
"I think I've got room to improve, especially my climbing, but I've got to be careful not to peak before the Giro and not end up going into a hole in May. That’s my main concern for now."
No rivalry with van Garderen for leadership at the Giro
Dennis will be part of a strong BMC team for next week's Volta a Catalunya, and he'll ride the Tour of the Alps (the Giro del Trentino) later in April to prepare for the Giro d'Italia.
It is a heavy load, but he seems to have the physique and aptitude to handle it and also handle any internal rivalry at BMC. He started as equal team leader with Tejay van Garderen and Damiano Caruso at Tirreno-Adriatico but emerged as the best rider at the WorldTour super team. His ability against the clock lifted him past Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and awarded him second overall, 25 seconds behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Van Garderen gave little indication that he can step up and be a true overall contender at the Giro d'Italia as BMC hope. However, Dennis plated down any talk of eclipsing the American. He stayed firmly on message to avoid any pre-Giro rivalry. At least in public.
"It doesn't change anything for me. I'm still going to be there for Tejay. That's my first role, I'm still going to play second fiddle," Dennis explained.
"Tejay wasn't up to scratch for a podium here, but that's because he's doing a slower gradual build towards May. He'll be good there, and so it's about me not peaking too early. It's about going there [the Giro], having no pressure and learning how to race for three weeks from Tejay, without coming out of it on my hands and knees."
His four-year master plan
Dennis explained he is working gradually on his transformation. This year's Giro d'Italia will be year one, with physical and physiological improvements hopefully coming in years two, three and four of his master plan.
"At the moment my stage racing hasn't taken anything away from my time trial, but if I want to be really competitive I need to perhaps lose two or three kilograms," he said.
"I'm probably not going to do that for this Giro. It's about learning to get through three weeks consistently first and still be near the mark, then I'll drop the weight. I don't want to bite off more than I can chew and fail miserably. I think it's safer to take those slower steps and build that base first.
"If it works, it works, but I won't have any regrets. I want to leave no stone unturned, and I want to finish my career knowing that I tried to be the best rider than I can be."