As the Pegasus Sports team gathers in Noosa, Queensland, this week, one of its youngest recruits will be taking the next step in a promising career. Rohan Dennis has a reputation as a tough character on the bike and as Cyclingnews discovers, it's sure to serve him well as he embarks upon a life in the professional ranks.
The Australian races in an uncompromising style that has won him fans both at home and abroad, forged through a background on the track and the road. A gold medal in the team pursuit at this year's UCI Track World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, proved his pedigree in the former discipline whilst podium performances in Norway's Ringerike GP and Olympia's Tour in Holland showed that his development in the latter form of the sport was strong.
It was this combination of strengths that had grabbed the attention of one of the world's biggest teams, Cervélo TestTeam, earlier this year. The squad that boasted the likes of Carlos Sastre, Heinrich Haussler and Thor Hushovd showed interest in signing him before its management decided to pull the pin on a two-year project; while there was no contract offered, it gave Dennis a taste for pro life.
"I'd already done a few UCI blood tests - for biological passport stuff - and I was getting ready to do a lab test as well [for Cervélo]," says Dennis. "The day before the test was when I got the email that they [Cervélo] were folding.
"I still went through with it [the test] just to get some sort of record so I could send it off to other teams. There was no actual contract or anything on the cards, it was just a fair bit of interest, and that's about it."
A ride on the flying horse
One of those "other teams" happened to be Pegasus Sports, which has operated as Fly V Australia for the past two seasons and applied for a ProTeam licence this year. Despite missing the cut for a seat at cycling's biggest table,
Earlier this week it was announced that Dennis would be riding for Pegasus Sports and when Cyclingnews spoke to the 20-year-old, he had been listed on the squad's 20-man roster, although an official statement of his arrival hadn't been released.
The reigning Under 23 Australian national time trial champion has faith in the project and the vision of Chris White, the man behind the team, who has been passionate about the sport for many years and a major factor in why the outfit now boasts the services of Robbie McEwen, the man with 12 Tour de France stages to his name.
"He [Chris White] is trying to get some big names in, which is good. It'd be great to have a ProTour licence because you get all the big races straight up, you don't have to fight for them, but if you've got a strong enough team, at Pro Continental level you're going to get the starts anyway," says Dennis.
While Pegasus missed selection for a ProTeam licence earlier this month, the squad is maintaining its focus on becoming part of the ProTour over the next few years. But the team's riders - from the experienced McEwen to the neo-pro Dennis - know that over the long term a spot at the ProTour table is key.
Possessing the likes of Luke Roberts, Daryl Impey, Robbie Hunter, Trent Lowe and Svein Tuft will go a long way in achieving that, the combination of developing younger riders courtesy of experienced heads making Pegasus a viable option for those looking for a solid long-term option in their career.
Rohan Dennis gets to know his Pegasus teammates over coffee in Noosa
Swimming featured in Dennis' sporting endeavours as a youngster, his long limbs and lean physique perfect for a life spent in the water. But that wasn't for him and several years ago he traded that in for a life on the road - since then he has steadily improved in his endurance capacity, which he attibutes to a maturing of his body.
"I think [the improvement in testing numbers] was just a natural progression; I was just maturing, getting used to cycling in general after swimming," he explains.
"If you'd done a test for swimming when I first came over to cycling I would have had a higher VO2 I reckon. So I think it's just my body getting used to cycling and just maturing as I'm on the bike for longer, plus just general weight loss. My oxygen consumption didn't go up a whole lot but my weight came down, which changes the balance."
And that progression is set to continue, albeit at an even higher level, as Dennis undertakes his first races in the pro ranks, against some of the world's biggest names and most famous events. While there's a chance it won't include the grand tours, there's still plenty to anticipate in 2011.
"I think next year is going to be based on the Classics and smaller tours - obviously the bigger tours like Tour de France, the Giro and the Vuelta all come down to whether we get a start, which isn't certain yet," he says. I think they're basing their racing more around the Classics.
"All the pro races in general are pretty solid and a lot harder than the Under 23 races, I think. No matter what the program is, as long as it's in Europe I'm pretty sure it will be beneficial for me."
A test of character
Back in his hometown of Adelaide, Dennis' father Brenton is also a passionate cyclist - this scribe often spots him enjoying a coffee post-ride at the Cibo cafe in North Adelaide and there's real pride for what his young charge has achieved in the relatively short period he's been competing on a bike.
And when Dennis first left the safety of this cycling-friendly city in southern Australia to compete in Europe, the adjustment wasn't easy. "The first year [with the Australian Institute of Sport program] I was struggling a bit - just being away from home for four months straight - but this year I was fine with it," he explains.
"I was actually planning to stay there the whole season, until after Commonwealth Games but when I changed over to the road Worlds then I basically just decided I was going to concentrate on the time trial - we looked at the training and the racing overseas and it was better to come home."
Jayco-Skins provided Dennis with a platform to demonstrate his talents on the European scene, the squad operated as part of the AIS elite cycling program being the one-time home for the likes of Omega Pharma-Lotto pro Matthew Lloyd, Astana rider Simon Clarke, Garmin-Transitions rider Jack Bobridge and HTC-Columbia professional Leigh Howard.
"I found no problems with it this year - it's been really beneficial," says Dennis. "[Two years ago] I went over to Europe for junior Worlds for one month, and it just about cracked me. last year it was three or four months and I just about cracked at the end of that and I was happy to come home.
"This year I was trying to step it up again, which I was happy to do... it was just a building process, really."