Despite wearing the yellow jersey of the race leader and leading both the sprint and mountain classifications after four stages, BMC’s Rohan Dennis continues to insist that he did not come to the USA Pro Challenge to ride for the overall win.
“To be honest, I tried to flick myself every single day,” he said on Thursday after winning stage 4 and taking the yellow jersey from teammate Brent Bookwalter in Breckenridge.
“The first day I went on the attack with 40k to go and then 20k,” he said. “The second day I rode from the bottom to the top of the final climb thinking that people were going to attack and I’d get dropped. Yesterday I rode from 35k to go up Independence Pass and down to the finish with a little help from Mr. [Michael] Schär. Today was just go up the climb as hard as I could.
“So to be honest, I wasn’t planning on riding GC here. It just happens to be that I’ve stepped up a couple of levels over the last couple of years and the altitude doesn’t affect me as much.”
Dennis’ admission was a tough pill to swallow for Hincapie Racing’s Robbie Squire, who finished third on Thursday and is currently third overall behind Dennis and BMC’s Brent Bookwalter. He joked about it during the post-race press conference.
“Honestly, it kind of hurts to hear Rohan say he didn’t come here with any GC ambitions and then just smashes everybody,” Squire said. “It’s a little belittling, but that’s OK.”
The last time Dennis competed in the USA Pro Challenge, in 2013, he finished 77th overall while suffering tremendously in Colorado’s high elevations. This time around, not so much. He and teammate Bookwalter, who ceded the race lead to Dennis on Thursday, have dominated the week so far.
The pair finished first and second during Tuesday’s second stage, with Bookwalter taking the win and the yellow jersey. They pulled it off again on Thursday, this time with Dennis getting the win and Bookwalter following him in. The stage win follows a second-place finish by Dennis Wednesday in Aspen.
Bookwalter said Dennis’ pre-race sandbagging turned out to be a pretty good tactic.
“Coming into the race, Rohan was quick to deflect his ambition to ride GC, very adamant about not wanting any pressure,” Bookwalter said. “So probably the best thing we could have done was told him to ride on the front every day for someone else. By virtue of that he was still in the race, and now he’s obviously in a great position to win the race.”
Dennis still insists he’s just taking the race day-by-day, not focusing on the overall but simply sticking with his original goal of winning Friday’s 14km individual time trial.
“Tomorrow’s time trial was my initial goal, and I hope to take that stage win as well,” he said. “Then it’s all about just keeping that lead and hopefully we still have second with Brent. Or if I have a really bad one and he smokes me tomorrow, then we’ll swap around again.”