Dennis' 2017 season focus is to transform himself from time trialler to general classification rider and ensure he rides each mountain finale to the finish line unlike previous years when he would 'swing off' for example after doing work for his team leaders. The stage 4 ascent to Terminillo, won by Nairo Quintana, was a test for Dennis and one which proved to be "a big lesson in stage racing for me" as he told Cyclingnews and a lesson that has him firmly in the frame for the podium.
The result, along with ninth place on the steep climb to Fermo Sunday was evidence of his growing stature as a general classification rider. Despite the fact that he already has overall Tour Down Under, USA Pro Challenge, Tour of Alberta and La Provence victories on his palmares.
"If I'm honest, I expected to be there with the final group on the finish, but it was far from easy, especially the last climb. I definitely had to go as deep as I could at that point and just follow the guys in front and hope I could sprint at the finish," Dennis said of stage 5, won by Peter Sagan.
While fifth stage was challenging mentally for Dennis, he benefited from the abandonment of Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) and Jonathan Castroviejo lacking legs in the final to jump up into third overall.
"The whole stage was far from easy, and it was one of those days when you have to play mental games with yourself and tell yourself there are only two more climbs when there are actually three. Tactically as well it was really tricky with attacks and splits from 75km to go but, the whole team was awesome. They did everything they could to put me in the best position to defend my spot on the GC and in the end move up."
The penultimate stage of the race, adjusted due to the condition of several roads, is expected to be on for the sprinters with Tuesday's time trial to decide the overall standings. Dennis suggested the 1:06-minute margin to Quintana will prove too much over just 10km but is nevertheless aiming for the best result possible.
"Tomorrow should hopefully be a little easier and a more straightforward sprint day. I can't see myself gaining any time on Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) or Quintana, but I have to still be on my game and watch out for any splits," said Dennis. "Then, it all comes down to the final TT, and while first place on the GC might be out of reach, I am always going to try and improve my result, that's for sure."
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