Dennis: This year has been better than ever

Despite crashing out of the Giro d'Italia and deciding to skip the Tour de France when he was considered a favourite for the stage 1 time trial, Rohan Dennis considers 2017 his best season to date. 

Starting his year with the defence of his Australian time trial crown, Dennis was on hand to help BMC teammate Richie Porte to Tour Down Under a few weeks later on home soil in Adelaide. His European campaign started in a similar vein as Dennis claimed the La Provence title in year one of his four year 'general classification project'.

Tirreno-Adriatico was the next site of success as BMC won the TTT, Dennis held his own up Terminillo and then triumphed in the final day time trial to finish second overall to Nairo Quintana. A second TTT victory of the season at Volta a Catalunya continued the winning streak before illness ended his race early. Dennis' season ambition of riding GC at the Giro d'Italia remained on track as he bounced back at the Tour of the Alps with a stage win. Assessing his season thus far, even the heavy concussion that forced him out of the Giro hasn't diminished his exploits as Dennis explains.

"This year has been better than ever. If we take away the time trials, it is more than I have ever done before in road races. I got two second places in Provence and the overall there. I was first and third in the Tour of the Alps in hilly stages and then that final stage, I didn't actually win but I was helping Brent [Bookwalter] and there was at one stage a group of six or seven left and it was all GC guys that were aiming for the Giro," Dennis told Cyclingnews in a recent interview.

"In my eyes, this year has been better than ever. I have tried to widen my range away just from time trials to try to perform in road races and mountains as well. Even if I am not winning, I have to be there. I think I have succeeded so far in that stepping stone to becoming more of a GC rider. It is all looking good bar a few moments of bad luck, but everyone has them. You have to move on from it."

A multiple world champion on the track before turning professional with Garmin-Sharp, Dennis showed his GC potential in his first year as he won the 2013 Tour of Alberta. In 2015, he added the Tour Down Under and US Pro Challenge while 2016 saw the 27-year-old finish second at the Tour of California and Tour of Britain, and crash out of the Eneco Tour on the final day when leading the race.

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Despite his previous stage race success, 2017 is Dennis' first concerted year of riding for the general classification and aiming to emulate time trial specialists Brad Wiggins and Tom Dumoulin by winning a Grand Tour. Having seen Dumoulin ride to Giro victory in May, Dennis explained it was a reminder that transformation into a Grand Tour contender or winner does not happen overnight.

"The Giro last year he was in the pink and then at the Tour he was pinpointing stages and I think those little steps, instead of always going 'ok, I have to go for GC for three weeks' is also a good step to aim for just a couple of really hard stages and test the limits, and also just to try and get some confidence," he said. "Obviously, you don't just sit up and take it easy every day to pinpoint those stages but maybe just take it a little bit easier here and there and build that confidence for three weeks which he did perfectly at the Giro. Barring that toilet incident, I think he would have won it by minutes. What I have taken from him is that it does take a couple of years and to be patient. He has hit a few big boulders he's had to climb around, and he has done it really well."

Since his 2014 move to BMC, Dennis has led the Tour de France, Criterium du Dauphine, Tour de Suisse, Tirreno-Adriatico, Eneco Tour and Tour Down Under. Leading the WorldTour stage races has been a confidence boost for Dennis, as he explained added each day in a leader's jersey has helped dispel self-doubt in his ability as a GC rider.

"Even in Swiss this year, I thought to myself, 'you got the leader's jersey after stage 4 but it wasn't just the time trial Rohan. You had to get through four stages and you were able to basically fight it out with the best guys in the word as a neo-pro. You need to start backing yourself a bit more,'" in said in reference to the 2013 Dauphine when he wore yellow.

"If you can do that as a neo-pro, you've got the engine and you've done something right then and maybe you have to let it flow. Instead of stressing 'Am I good enough? I'm I fit enough?', you are good enough, just do it. Don't think about it so much and don't doubt yourself because as soon as you do, it is what I was doing in time trials when I was always getting second. I was like 'ok, today I'll get second again today. Great, no big hitters are here for the time trial but someone will pop out anyway' and it always did happen. It is about turning that doubt off in your mind and trying to realise that you have done it before. You have done it as a younger and less experienced rider and you weren't even as good then."

Maintaining time trial power

Since Dennis' record-breaking Tour de France time trial win in 2015, he has emerged as one of the premier chrono men in the peloton. However, punctures and broken handlebars have arguably ended medal-winning rides at both Worlds and the Olympics. Despite his GC emphasis in 2017, Dennis has still managed to take his time trialling to another level this season. As it currently stands he is four from four in individual time trials and two from two in the team discipline. Despite this success, Dennis explained the secret to his success is simple.

"It is just general confidence in time trials since the Tour de France to be honest. It was always second, third, fifth, second, second, second, second…[laughs] it was like 'oh, again?' and then finally I got that win and it was on the biggest stage that we have in cycling," said Dennis. "That gave me a huge amount of confidence that I can actually win a time trial. I don't know if it also plays a part in what other people think when they come up against me as well or when I am at the race they think 'oh shit, he is not the second place guy anymore.' Whether it puts a little bit of doubt in their mind, I am not sure.

Dennis has also taken his time trialling prowess and confidence into the mountains as his effort on Terminillo proved earlier in the year, setting up his podium result.

"I saw my numbers and the doctor said there is no one that can do that when it comes to GC here. That is all you need to do up Terminillo. If you get dropped, just get into TT mode and you are not going to lose much time at all," he said. "Don't as soon as you get dropped or gapped a little bit go 'it's over'. It is not over until everyone finishes. You may look ugly as you come over the finish line but it not whoever looks the best on the bike, it is whoever wins."

Finishing off 2017

With his two time trial win at Tour de Suisse in June, Dennis proved he was over the Giro concussion, the third of his career after two in 2014 by his own reckoning, and is ready to re-set for the remainder of 2017. Originally, Dennis was to ride the Route du Sud and Tour de Pologne post-Giro but with his crash, his schedule needed a full rewrite.

"I am not 100 percent sure, I spoke to Allan [Peiper] and said if 'I don't do the Tour, I need to do a full Grand Tour this year and that is the Vuelta,'" Dennis said of his race plans and the Spanish Grand Tour.. "He said that is probably the best option if you are not doing the Tour, especially for the Worlds. I don't know what the team plans are GC wise or who we are working for but I think worse case, if I am not there for GC, I need to pinpoint stages for myself."

Dennis rode the Vuelta a Espana in 2014, shadowing Cadel Evans in his final grand tour to gain insight into three-week racing from the 2011 Tour winner. Dennis finished the Vuelta with third in the final day time trial but in 2017, Dennis wants to shine in the mountains. Although, he is winning to play the team card and only do so when suited to BMC's overall objectives.

"I am not talking about going in a breakaway and trying to win a flat stage by outsmarting the sprint teams. I need to attack a big mountain stage and test my ability on the climbs against the GC guys and get some free reign there," he said. "I am not sure what the full team plan is and who exactly is going to be there for BMC so I can't say my exact plans. I still have to play somewhat of the team card. I have to have to prove myself to get full support."

If the Vuelta doesn't work for Dennis and BMC, he is open to returning to Britain and Eneco with an eye on the overall and preparing for the Worlds time trial.

"It was a good lead up to Worlds and would probably be a bit better this year not being in a hot climate place. Doha, going from Britain and Eneco are not always the hottest places in the world. Going to Doha, we probably weren't fully prepared in that sense. This year, it is Norway so it is going to be similar to both those climates and it won't be that bigger a change."

Impacting Dennis' race schedule is his bid for the Worlds time trial crown and ensuring he arrives in Noway in prime condition. Having finished sixth, fifth, and fifth at the last three Worlds, Dennis will be hoping to break his drought in Bergen and take the rainbow jersey.

"Things have gone wrong on the big stage in time trials for me. I have just to forget it and prepare with the team to ensure that it doesn't happen again. They are doing as much as they possibly can. Some of those things are completely out of our control. The puncture in Richmond, it was something that was out of our control. You are going into a corner and you just blow out a tyre. You can't sweep the road before I ride it; it was just that little bit of glass or something that sliced it and that is just the way it is."

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