He had worn yellow in the Critérium du Dauphiné and set a previous UCI Hour Record earlier this year but Rohan Dennis moved into a new league on Saturday with a time trial demonstration in the Tour de France that left former world champions Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara floundering around the Utrecht.
To illustrate the magnitude of Dennis’s ride in Utrecht, his time of 14:56 over the 13.8km course was the fastest individual time trial in Tour de France history, eclipsing Greg LeMond’s record from 1989. History, though, mattered little for Dennis as he sat in the hot seat, his girlfriend close by for morale support as he watched rider after rider fail to challenge his time.
When Chris Froome crossed the line 50 seconds down, and only Vincenzo Nibali to come, Dennis’s celebrations began, the Australian all but sure of being only the seventh man from his country to pull on yellow.
“We decided to go off early, set a benchmark and make everyone else chase me. It worked out perfectly,” he said once he pulled on the yellow jersey and made his way through the first major press scrum of this year’s race.
“There’s a little bit of shock,” he admitted with a grin so big it would stretch from Perth to Sydney.
“We’ve worked with the team and came out here about a month ago to check and recon the course. It’s the Tour de France and the yellow jersey. I’ve always dreamed of being in this position and now I am.
“It started to sink in when I saw the big threats come in behind me. It was surreal but a few emotions came out.”
The road to Utrecht has been long for Dennis, who moved from Garmin to BMC Racing midseason last year: An unconventional move at the time but one that has certainly paid off in the last seven months with Dennis enjoying the best phase of his career so far.
When asked if the mid-season move had helped him settle for 2015 Dennis said: “ I think that’s possible but moving midway through 2014 did help a little bit, getting used to the team and the directors and the way everything works even in the small details like how the soigneurs work. It meant I didn’t have to jump onto a new bike and new position at the start of the year and there was no pressure in the second half of last year to get results. This year it’s time to put my foot down and work hard on all the small details.”
Tonight BMC will toast yellow for the first time since Cadel Evans won the race in 2011 but they will be hoping that Dennis has only lit the fuse for their Tour ambitions. In Tejay van Garderen they have a rider who finished fifth last year and who is aiming for the podium in Paris. The American, who finished second in last month’s Critérium du Dauphiné, finished 20th, 42 seconds down on Dennis but ahead of Vincenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana.
The question for BMC’s management for the coming days is how they prioritise van Garderen’s need to be protected and their ambitions of keeping Dennis in yellow. Both aims are possible and could dovetail nicely, but both take up valuable energy. Tonight, however, that’s not a question for Dennis to worry about.
“The team is 100 per cent committed to Tejay and obviously I don’t want to lose the jersey after one day of wearing it. If I can hold it for one, two maybe three or until the team time trial, that would be great. The longer the better so it’s less pressure for Tejay so he can go about his thing and work towards the second or third week.“