After winning the stage 3 grind from San Jose to the top of Mt. Diablo Tuesday and pulling back 20 seconds on race leader Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), Rohan Dennis believes he's in with a shot at taking the overall when the Tour of California ends Sunday in Thousand Oaks.
“In the overall it does give me a bit of confidence,” the 23-year-old Garmin-Sharp rider said at the post-race press conference, which Wiggins skipped after finishing the stage in ninth place and with his lips covered in a pasty-white film.
“I think Sky will be able to work from now on, and now they'll almost ask us to probably help out,” Dennis said. “And tactically that's going to keep more of their guys for the finishing climbs and whatnot. So it's going to be harder to isolate Brad from here on in I think.”
Wiggins took the lead during the stage 2 time trial in Folsom, winning by 44 seconds over Dennis. The 2012 Tour de France champion went into the Diablo stage with a strong team, but a long day of chasing an early breakaway in heat approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit sapped the squad's strength, and Wiggins was isolated on the final climb.
Wiggins went to the front of the lead group and set a tempo he hoped would prevent any dangerous riders from going up the road, but Dennis was able to slip away in the end. The young Australian, who won the overall at the Tour of Alberta last year, said his team will have to rely on similar tactics if he is to win the race.
“I don't think the Tour de France and Olympic champion is going to crack,” Dennis said. “He's a level above – I believe – all of us. But if we play our cards right like we did today, it can play into our hands. It's more of the tactics for us, and if we don't play it smart, his ride [in the time trial] will definitely win the tour for him.”
Dennis' ride to the top of Diablo was a big improvement over his performance on the stage that ended there last year. He finished 11th, 44 seconds down on winner Leopold König, after cracking in the final kilometres. This year he had more experience, and also two teammates, to help him get the win.
“Both Janier [Acevedo] and Tommie [Danielson] were itching,” he said. “You could say they're pure climbers, and they really wanted to start making it a little more exciting. I was at a bit of a rough patch in that period, and I was pretty happy with the tempo. And then I sort of came good toward the end. When Janier asked to attack again about just after 2km to go, it was basically the perfect moment, and it worked out perfectly.”
Adam Yates countered Acevedo's attack, and Dennis went with him, eventually dropping the Orica-GreenEdge rider and soloing across the line to take one of the biggest wins of his career.
“It's not very often that I win a hilltop finish,” Dennis said. “I usually crack with a couple k to go. It's always good for my head to see that a year older and a year stronger, and I can not just get the top 10 here but I can actually win the stage. So it shows that my progression as a rider has gone really nicely, and I'm really happy.
“It's not just a breakaway or a just a lucky win,” he continued. “It really was the best man on the day who won. Tactics did come into it, but at the same time, you still have to get up the climb.”