Dennis fires shot across the bow of GC contenders at USA Pro Challenge

After coming into the USA Pro Challenge as a much-talked-about favourite for the overall, BMC’s Rohan Dennis threw a spanner in the conventional wisdom Monday with a late attack during the opening stage, considered by most to be a day for the sprinters rather than for the general classification.

Dennis bridged to the breakaway remnants after the final KOM of the day, however, and then joined Canadian champion Guillaume Boivin (Optum Pro Cycling) in a two-man move that was caught a kilometre from the finish in Steamboat Springs.

Although the 25-year-old Australian’s effort didn’t net a stage win or any time over his GC rivals, it worked out quite well for his team when Taylor Phinney won the stage and BMC’s Brent Bookwalter finished third.

“I took the opportunity,” Dennis told Cyclingnews after the stage. “It could have paid off. It didn’t for me, but it did for Taylor in the end, so I suppose you could have a crack and it was good training.”

In fact, chasing down the move from Dennis and Boivin used up most of the UnitedHealthcare horsepower as the team was trying to set up Kiel Reijnen for the stage win.

With his team mostly played out in the final kilometre, Reijnen had to begin chasing down moves on his own. Phinney eventually escaped up the right-hand side of the road while a Drapac rider was on the left. Reijnen could never get back on terms with Phinney and he finished second.

Dennis’ escape worked out well for his team, but it was still odd to see a favourite for the overall trying to escape the field on a day for the fastmen. When asked about this, Dennis, who claimed during the pre-race press conference that he expected to suffer a lot in Colorado’s altitude, continued to play coy.

“Who says I’m a GC rider?” he asked back with a wry grin before admitting the overall race had been on the back of his mind. Tuesday’s stage will likely be a GC day, with three climbs that reach over 2,900 metres.

“Honestly, it was in the back of my mind about tomorrow, and I was thinking, ‘Well, if I get the yellow today this effort off the front is probably going to kill me for tomorrow, so I’ll make the most of it.’ But I doubted the 15-20 seconds would make a difference in the end.”

Dennis also said he was feeling the effects of the high altitude, although it didn’t seem to slow him down much.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “I found that whenever you go into the red you have to go below your threshold that you can at sea level. It was more that you had to really control your effort, and whenever you did make a big effort you had to make sure it worked.”

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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.