Phil Anderson: Dennis has the ability to win a Grand Tour

Phil Anderson is one of Australia's most successful-ever riders, truly making everyone sit up and pay attention when, in 1981, he became the first Aussie – and the first rider from outside Europe – to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France.

During his pro career with Peugeot, Panasonic, TVM and Motorola, Anderson's victories included Amstel Gold, the Critérium du Dauphiné, the Tour de Suisse, the Tour de Romandie and two stages at the Tour de France. Although he never managed to convert that yellow jersey into a Tour de France title, he did twice finish fifth, riding (and finishing) 16 Grand Tours in all, including the Giro d'Italia three times, finishing seventh, 13th and 33rd.

Who better, then, to ask to comment on compatriot Rohan Dennis' Giro performance this year and his goal to one day win a Grand Tour, to assess Mitchelton-Scott's performance at this year's race, and to look ahead at how Richie Porte may fare at this year's Tour de France?

"I think he's doing very well," says Anderson of Dennis' performance so far at the 2018 Giro d'Italia, which has included wearing the pink leader's jersey and winning a stage. "You know, to win another time trial at a Grand Tour shows you the class of rider he is."

Not only did Dennis win another time trial at a Grand Tour, but he did so in the third week of the Giro – which had been the BMC rider's own challenge to himself having raced targeting a top-10 finish overall.

"He'd maybe been kind of forgotten about a little bit after he lost some time," Anderson says. "But he's a protected rider on the team, so he hasn't done any work that hasn't been necessary.

"I think he certainly has the ability to possibly one day win a Grand Tour. While he's not up there with the top climbers, he can hang on in the mountains. He's not that far behind."

Dennis' time trialling abilities, says Anderson, are his calling card: an ability not to be sniffed at when targeting stage races of any length. Whether the 27-year-old can continue to improve in three-week races, however, remains to be seen.

"Rohan's done so well winning prologues or opening time trials in the past, and that's come from his past on the track. He knows how to suffer. The only thing he really has to do is improve on his climbing.

"And he's had a lot of support from the team, who I don't think are pushing him too much. It has to now be for this next year or two that he puts everything on the line. He's said this is really the first Grand Tour in which he's putting everything down, and I think it's been far from a failure for him. I think he's been fantastic."

All part of the masterplan

As to whether Dennis stating his plan 'four-year plan' in early 2017 was a good idea, Anderson has mixed feelings.

"He's ambitious, and he talks about this masterplan – that by this time he wants to have done this or that. A lot of young people like him say they want to be married at this age, or have a kid at this age, or pay off their home... People have all these objectives. Rohan came through the AIS [Australian Institute of Sport], and I think riders these days have, like, 20 people around them telling them how good they are, setting them these long-term goals: 'Where do you want to be in two years', four years', 10 years' time?' I think some of those statements and those ideals have come out of all of that.

"I don't think I ever actually said I was going to win the Tour or anything," says Anderson when Cyclingnews asks him if he'd ever stated his goals out loud. "I think when you're on a start line, you're there to do the best you can. Making long-term predictions wasn't really something you did back in the day.

"As riders build up for the Tour at the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse, they'll say, 'Oh, my form is good now… I'm where I want to be compared to last year… With a few changes I can better my performance compared to last year…' That sort of thing. But I noticed when Dennis talked about this long-term plan. And each to their own. If it works for him, and he doesn't have too much pressure from social media and all of that, then good luck to him."

That pressure, says Anderson, is a necessary evil when you're a professional athlete. But armchair commentators on Twitter listening and watching everything you say and do are never going to bring anything to the table.

"Sometimes it's better to keep some of those goals to yourself, or confidential to those around you, rather than going out and saying what you're planning to do. But this 'masterplan' is only a part of what Rohan does and can do. A rider who's held the World Hour Record, and won and led multiple stage races… He's already a very credible rider in his own right.

"He might never win a Grand Tour, but if he stopped tomorrow, he's already had a fantastic career. You've got to enjoy where you are and where you've been. That was my one regret... Well, not regret, but you don't really notice the impact you've had on a sport, or enjoy your results much, during your career because you're always striving for the next win or result. It's really only been since I retired that I've looked back at my results and at my time with the teams I was with, and have really been able to enjoy everything. It's like that for a lot of sportspeople, I'm sure."

Ryan reaps the rewards

While Dennis continues to strive towards his goal of winning a Grand Tour, Mitchelton-Scott's Simon Yates is in pole position to make victory at this year's Giro d'Italia a reality.

Anderson says he's been following the team closely, and has nothing but praise for what could become the first Australian pro team to win a Grand Tour.

"It's been great to see it all come together like this for Mitchelton-Scott," says Anderson. "There's been a lot of hard work and many years of getting these riders to where they are, and finally for [team owner] Gerry Ryan, it's paying off.

"It would be big for the team if Yates could win, and would help give them even more credibility," Anderson says, stopping short of saying that the win's already in the bag.

"Gerry's committed, and I'm sure he's been waiting for this every year, when it comes to writing the cheque or seeing the money come out of his account," Anderson laughs. "But it's achievements like everything that's happened at this Giro that make it all worth it. It's fantastic for the sport in Australia."

A more-than-honourable mention for Mitchelton-Scott's Jack Haig, too. The 24-year-old has been instrumental as part of the Giro squad trying to get Yates to Rome in pink.

"Certainly, Jack has proved himself at this level," says Anderson. "I know the team's been talking about him for a long time, and it's great to see him riding really strongly for the team. He's really made a huge impact on the results of the team. He's doing really well."

If the stars align

Looking ahead to the Tour de France in July, Anderson believes that Dennis's BMC teammate, Richie Porte, has as good a chance as any to take the yellow jersey all the way to Paris – if bad luck stays away this time.

In terms of form, however, Anderson points out that it isn't really until around June that you can really start to see what kind of shape any of the Tour contenders are in.

"It's so hard to tell with the race programmes riders have now," he says. "They ride so infrequently, you can't really follow a rider's form. So, often they're at a training camp in Tenerife or training at altitude... They won't race for a few weeks, or six weeks, or something, so it's really hard to track them.

"Back in the day we used to race a lot – 110, 120 days a year – which is a far cry from what they do now. Now you have to wait until the Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse to see how the contenders are shaping up.

"But I'd love to see Richie do well at the Tour. There just always seems to be something that brings him unstuck, though," Anderson says, alluding to the crashes that have blighted Porte's attempts at the race in recent years – not least last year, when his horrific accident on the descent of the Mont du Chat on stage 9 spelt the end of his challenge.

"There always seems to be something. I don't know if it's the pressure, or what it is. It almost seems like he's jinxed.

"What happened last year was so unfortunate. Everyone in Australia was on the edge of their bloody couches watching the race unfold, and Richie was in a great position. I think that, without the crash, if he wasn't on the top step, he wouldn't have been far away. Hopefully the stars can align for him this year."

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