Australia's Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) finished the Strade Bianche race with his legs hurting and his face covered in white dust but was happy to have finished his first race as a professional in Europe and his first race with Garmin-Sharp.
The 22-year-old track pursuit and time trail specialist was forced to miss the Tour Down Under with a viral infection. He was scheduled to ride Paris-Nice but was switched to Garmin-Sharp's Italian race programme to boost the team's hopes of success in the opening team time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico.
Strade Bianche was the antipasto of Dennis' professional career, the dirt roads an amuse-bouche of the pain he will get to taste during the rest of his career. Despite having little off-road skills, Dennis enjoyed his first mouthful of pro racing. He finished 48th in the official results, 6:51 behind winner Moreno Moser (Cannondale Pro Cycling Team).
"It was a good experience and definitely different to racing with the amateurs," he told Cyclingnews at the hectic finish in the centre of Siena.
"It was a tough race. Unfortunately after the long dirt section before the feed zone, there was a crash and I got caught behind it. That forced me to make a time trail kind of effort and it shattered me a bit. After that I was trying to help the team."
Dennis admitted he had felt a little nervous before his professional debut. He is a former team pursuit world champion, was the best young rider at the 2012 Tour Down Under and won the International Thüringen Tour but any rider's professional debut is a special moment.
"There were a few nerves but nothing too serious," he said. "I was not given an objective to be up there in the finish and was just told to go out and enjoy it and have fun."
Things will get more serious at Tirreno-Adriatico. Garmin-Sharp has yet to win a race in 2013 and the 16.9km team time trial is great chance for the US team to break their duck. Dennis' time trial skills and power will be vital if Garmin-Sharp are to out do last year's winners Orica-GreenEdge and the likes of Team Sky and Radioshack-Leopard.
Garmin-Sharp is not riding Roma Maxima on Sunday and so has an extra day to prepare for Tirreno-Adriatico and the team time trial.
"The team time trial is a big goal," Denis said. "I hope I can help out there and then do as much as I possibly can during the week. The last time trial is a goal for me too."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.