Rohan Dennis, the 23-year-old winner of the inaugural Tour of Alberta, had a deal with Garmin-Sharp General Manager Jonathan Vaughters. The young rider was about to start a long string of races beginning with the Tour de France and ending this week in Alberta, and he asked his boss if he could go home for a rest before starting the long campaign.
"I thought two months was going to be quite challenging to be on the road," said the rider who placed second in the Alberta prologue and then took over the race lead on stage 3. "I asked if it was possible, and he said it was if I came here and won the prologue for him. I didn't do that, but in the end I won the overall, so I think he's probably a little bit more happy than what he first thought he would be."
Dennis took the best young rider jersey at the Criterium du Daupine in June, then he rode his first Tour de France, followed by Classica San Sebastian. After that he traveled to the US for back-to-back races at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado before heading north for the inaugural Canadian race. It was a long spell on the road for the young neo-pro, but he capped it off with his first win in a UCI stage race.
"It helps that we had a really strong team with a lot of guys who can ride the flats and guys who can ride the hills at the same time," he said of the Garmin-Sharp squad that faithfully-supported his effort.
"We had no doubt in our mind that if there was anyone dangerous who went up the road we had the team to pull it back," he said. "You could say we rode a little bit cocky sometimes, but sometimes you have to really put yourself out there and sort of show your power to sort of intimidate other teams and show them that we are here for business and we are going to try and finish this race off as well as possible."
After Dennis grabbed the race lead on the windswept stage 3 run into Drumheller, his team performed flawlessly. Garmin allowed a large group of riders who were not a threat to his overall lead to get away on stage 4 and ride all the way to the finish, and they shepherded him safely to the finish line Sunday in Calgary.
He beat BMC's Brent Bookwalter by 18 seconds and Cannondale's Damiano Caruso by 30 seconds to take the overall win, although he said he never really felt safe until he crossed the final finish line.
"Obviously there was a good feeling that there was a great chance that I could come home with the yellow jersey," he said. "But we tried not to get ahead of ourselves. We always know that there are other tactics from other teams that could knock us off the perch if we let them. I personally was always very attentive today in the race, and I didn't believe the race would be given to us, especially on those circuits. You never know what's going to happen on those circuits in the last 15km."
When Dennis saw Cannondale's Peter Sagan take his third win of the six-day race, denying Bookwalter any chance at a time bonus that might threaten his overall advantage, he was finally able to relax and enjoy his accomplishment.
"It's really a great honor to be able to come home with a win," he said. "It will always remain really close to me, and hopefully I can come back next year to prepare for worlds and try to back up my win this year."
Now Dennis joins his teammate and fellow Australian neo-pro Lachlan Morton in the winners' column. And he believes Steele Von Hoff will soon join the club as well. It's an impressive list of young riders that Garmin is bringing into the fold of top-level cycling, and Dennis said their success is no accident.
"[Vaughters] is always saying that he's looking out for some young guys," Dennis said. "We've got Lachie Morton, who's been performing out of his skin in Utah and Colorado. Unfortunately, he had an injury here so he had to pull out, but I think we've got one of the strongest young teams in the world.
"And it's not just Lachie and myself," he said. "We've got other guys like Steele Von Hoff, who's been getting some results recently as well in races like the Tour of Poland. So our team really does look after young guys."
And no doubt the young guys will be looking after their team and its ambitions in the near future as well.