"Tomorrow will be the first test, so I’ll know pretty soon, probably at least midway through tomorrow’s stage, if not on stage 2, which is going to be the start of the GC battle," he said. "You’ll either see me get dropped and lose 10-20 minutes or I’ll be close to the front."
The last time Dennis raced at this altitude two years ago in Utah and Colorado, he suffered a lot.
"And I think that’s probably going to happen again," he said.
Dennis (BMC) finished 77th overall at the 2013 USA Pro Challenge and then went on to win the Tour of Alberta weeks later. The 25-year-old Australian, who this year won the opening time trial at the Tour de France and wore yellow for a day, said he’s taking the Colorado race one day at a time, hoping the week he spent in Steamboat Springs prior to Sunday will help him adjust to the thin air.
"I’ve been here for just over a week now," he said. "Today was probably the best I’ve felt on the bike. My heart rate is slowly, slowly coming down. It hasn’t quite dropped below 100 beats per minute on the downhills. It’s still probably a five-to-10 beats increase.
"There’s going to be an advantage for the guys who did Utah or even live at altitude: the Colombians or the guys who live in Colorado at altitude in general.”
If the altitude doesn’t knock Dennis off his form, he’ll obviously target the stage 4 time trial in Breckenridge as well as making a run at the general classification. The course in Breckenridge is not a straightforward time trial, however, as it starts out flat, includes a relatively serious climb over Moonstone Road at more than 3,000 metres and then a descent back into town.
"It’s sort of a slight downhill and then a slight uphill, and then it’s nine or 10km to the top of that climb," he said. "So that’s really where the finish line is; that’s the way you have to look at it mentally.
"Obviously you can lose on the downhill, but nine times out of 10 the quickest person to the top of that climb is probably going to be the winner. The general rule with time trialing is the slow sections are where you can take the most time out, so the climb is where you’ll win the stage."
Dennis is not the only card BMC has to play this week, however, with the American squad having arguably the strongest roster in the race. Dennis will be joined in Colorado by Brent Bookwalter, Damiano Caruso, Michael Schar, Manuel Senni, trainee Kilian Frankiny, Peter Stetina and Taylor Phinney.
"We’ve got a lot of opportunities with the team we’ve brought here," Dennis said. "We’ve got Mickey Schar, who is probably the best dosmestique in the world or one of them. Taylor [Phinney] is coming back from injury and so is Pete [Stetina], and they’re both pretty motivated. Taylor showed he can still get on the podium after 15 months out of racing.
"Brent [Bookwalter] was third in Utah and we’ve got a stagiaire. They’re all really motivated, and we’re here to sort of target every day."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.
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