Despite finishing well below his second place overall at Tirreno-Adriatico last year, Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) said his win in the final time trial will give him a confidence boost as he makes his final preparations for a general classification run at the Giro d'Italia in May.
Dennis was never supposed to be BMC's go-to GC guy at Tirreno this year, choosing instead to tailor his training toward the Italian Grand Tour in less than two months. The leadership role at Tirreno started with Richie Porte, who then had to withdraw before the start due to illness.
"Once he was out, obviously, Damiano [Caruso] was called up as the leader for GC," Dennis said during the post-race press conference. "I was hopeful that I could try and repeat what I did last year or go a little bit better, but sometimes it just doesn't happen like that."
Dennis was on target for a good GC run over the seven-day race after BMC took out the opening team time trial. Dennis slotted into the runner-up spot behind Caruso, but things went downhill from there.
A series of low placings over the next five days saw him heading into the time trial in 85th place, 36:59 behind leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), while Caruso was second overall. Dennis spent stage 5 in a breakaway and collected three KOM points, but otherwise he was not a factor in the stages.
That changed on Tuesday when he stormed over the 10km course in 11:14, unseating Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) from the hot seat by eight seconds and then holding off Jos van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Jonathan Castreviejo (Movistar) for the stage win. Better yet, Dennis' time was four seconds faster than his winning mark from the year before.
"Yeah, it's good," he said when asked if the time gave him confidence. "I felt better this year in the time trial. I don't know if that's because I wasn't fighting for the GC for the whole week. That may have played a little bit part of it, but I try not to think about it."
Dennis said rather than focusing on his GC result, he'll look at the good signs that came out of his seven days in Italy.
"I was talking to my coach, and he said, 'Look, at this stage of your training it's perfectly normal that on the longer days you're going to struggle,' but I can take confidence out of what I did on the Scarponi memorial race day [stage 5], today and the team time trial. I can take confidence out of those three days."
Dennis, who has previously taken overall victories at the Tour Down Under, USA Pro Challenge, Tour of Alberta and Tour La Provence, has made it clear that he wants to be a GC rider for the Grand Tours. That experiment will begin in May at the Giro, and Dennis conceded on Tuesday that he's still got some work to do before the 2018 Giro rolls out with a prologue time trial in Jerusalem on May 4.
"What I've noticed is, last year I was quite good here, but there's a bit of a different approach this year," he said. "I'm lacking that sort of race distance over five hours, and that intensity I'm lacking at the moment.
"That's one thing we need to work on," he said. "The shorter distances or anything under five, I'm feeling good, but once we hit five it was a bit of a struggle for me. We're working toward that, and the next two months will be vital for that as well."
Dennis started his season in early Janaury at home with the Australian national championships, followed by the Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. From there he travelled to the desert for the Abu Dhabi Tour, where he also won the individual time trial, and now Tirreno. His next step will be a short rest and then more Giro build up.
"It's been a pretty heavy last two, two-and-a-half months of racing," he said. "So I'll have a bit of a rest and prepare for my next race, which is Romandie, and then into the Giro. Hopefully, there will be a big build up into May. Romandie will be the last bit of touch up hopefully, and then off to Israel."
Dennis has a good shot of leading the Giro after the rolling 9.7km prologue time trial in Jerusalem, but he said winning the opening test and wearing the maglia rosa for stage 1 is not a high priority.
"It's going to be day by day sort of thing," he said of the three-week race. "Obviously, with the prologue, if I don't take pink that day it's not going to be that big of a deal. It's going to be an opportunity to take some time on my GC rivals, but I'm trying to look at a bigger picture of the whole three weeks and trying to perform the whole time. So if I don't win the first day it's not a big deal to me."