Dennis: I had a great year but I've got this issue of wanting more
Australian aims to become a GC rider and challenge for the Tour de France by 2020
Considering the year Rohan Dennis (BMC) has had, you might expect him to bask proudly in his achievements when offered the chance to reflect on the season just gone before the next one swings into life.
The 25-year-old won a stage and the overall at the Tour Down Under in January, broke the UCI Hour Record in February, led the Critérium du Dauphiné, won the opening stage of the Tour de France in record-breaking fashion, doubled up with the team time trial stage a week later, triumphed overall at the USA Pro Challenge, and capped it all with gold in the World Championships TTT.
Yet as he sits down with media in Denia, Spain, during BMC's winter camp, it becomes clear that the things he didn't achieve have haunted him to a far greater extent than his considerable successes have given him satisfaction.
"A lot of people say 'oh you had a great year in 2015', and you can line up all the things I achieved, but there was a massive period from the Hour Record to the Dauphiné where I didn't get a win, and that was eating away at me," says the Australian.
"I look at the things I didn't achieve on my goals list, and find out why, and what I can do better. A lot of people look at the things they did achieve; I do look at them as well, but if you always beat you own drum and don't look at what you can improve on then you'll never actually go forward."
Dennis describes how the "massive high" of breaking the Hour Record was followed by a "huge low". He took a few days off the bike and found it hard to adjust mentally, returning to racing at Paris-Nice, where he missed out in the prologue – "that sucked to say the least" – before "battling" through the following races.
Success did come round again, and the Tour was probably the standout achievement of the Australian's career to date. Yet that, too, was difficult to bounce back from, with the TTT helping him keep his head screwed on, as he puts it. The times when you drop off between moments of success are what the Australian struggles to deal with, it seems.
"I had a great year, yeah, but the problem is I've got this issue of wanting more," Dennis says, acknowledging that this 'problem' is, paradoxically, both a symptom of and contributor to his success.
"You can ask my girlfriend. I beat my head against a brick wall and I drive her up the wall. She wants to kill me sometimes, because I'm like, 'Why can't I win?’ and she's like, 'You've already won 10 times more than most people do in a whole career!'
"I want to win that, though, and why didn't I win it?" is the usual response.
Becoming a Tour de France champion
Although Dennis came from a track background and has established himself as a prolific rider against the clock, he sees himself as a Grand Tour general classification rider in the long term.
With 2016 being an Olympic year, time trialling will still be the main focus next term, but after Rio is out of the way he will aim to become a rider capable of winning the Tour de France, which he sees as the "pinnacle" of the sport.
"I've heard people say 'do you really want to sacrifice, or risk, four to six years of your career to sort of see if you may become a GC contender?'," he says, possibly referring to comments made recently by 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans.
"My argument is: 'Did you regret doing it when you tried?' If I didn't do it and got to 35 – which is when I'd think about retiring – and I didn't try it, and just stuck with something I know I'm good at, then I would be kicking myself and saying, 'What if? Why didn't I try it?'"
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In terms of the self-critical nature of his personality and the hunger for success, how will Dennis discover the patience needed to pursue such a project – one that may not bear fruit for a good few years?
"I think I have to set a time limit," he admits. "Let's say by 2020, if I can't see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel, especially with the Tour de France, I will head towards maybe the Giro or Vuelta.
"I'd maybe try to get some experience leading and trying to win one of them first – not that they're easier, but the depth isn't the same. Maybe I'd start aiming for one of them before coming back to the Tour de France – if something hasn't already started to come together."
Dennis hopes to learn from established GC contenders in the BMC team, Tejay van Garderen and Richie Porte, over the next couple of years, but was not shy in stating his ambition to be battling with them for leadership in the biggest races thereafter.
As for the plausibility of the ambition, he can take heart from seeing fellow time trial specialist Tom Dumoulin go so close at the Vuelta a Espana this year, along with Bradley Wiggins' transition from decorated track rider to Tour de France champion.
"Geraint Thomas is the next one to look at being the next GC guy from a track background," Dennis adds. "It wasn't normal back in the day, probably because people didn't take the plunge in losing that amount of weight to become a hill climber. If you are a GC rider and you've got a TT background, who says you can't be the best at both?"
As the dictaphones are switched off and Dennis makes for the door, he is wished well in his first endeavour of 2016 – the Australian national championships. "Let's hope it's fourth time lucky, eh," he responds with a jocular shrug, referring to his string of near misses in the time trial and once again providing a reminder of how heavily his perceived shortcomings will always weigh on his mind, no matter the scale of his success elsewhere.
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Deputy Editor. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.