Australian Rohan Dennis believes the emerging rivalries among the next generation of time trial stars that includes him will ramp up next year.
The depth of the new wave of time trial stars became clearer this year in a season that climaxed with the World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain where seasoned stars Briton Bradley Wiggins and German defending world champion Tony Martin won the gold and silver medals respectively with 26.23 seconds separating them.
Dutchman Tom Dumoulin placed third at 40.64 seconds to Wiggins, while the veteran Vasil Kiryienka of Belarus was fourth at 47.92 seconds and Dennis fifth at 57.4 seconds
Dumoulin, 23, and Dennis, 24, are just two rising talents in elite time trial. Others include Americans Taylor Phinney and Tejay van Garderen, Australians Luke Durbridge, Michael Hepburn and U23 world champion Campbell Flakemore and Briton Alex Dowsett.
Dennis and Dumoulin go back to their days on the Rabobank under 23 team.
"He is a nice guy," Dennis told Cyclingnews of the Giant-Shimano rider who also beat him to win the time trial at the Criterium International this year.
"I am more than happy for him to be up there … but not in front of me from now on."
Dennis said their friendship should help bring the best out of each other as rivals: "It will come into play and also with Phinney. Once his [fractured] leg is 100 per cent he is going to be big factor. Tejay will also be good.
"There is Dowsett … Durbridge, Hepburn. They have had a bit of rough last year with time trials. 'Heppy' won at nationals and 'Durbo' got the title last year. But once 'Durbo' finds time trial form … he is not easy to beat. And I can't forget Flakemore."
From Garmin-Sharp to BMC …
While Dennis' mid-season switch from Garmin-Sharp to BMC paid huge dividends, at Garmin-Sharp he accrued some nice results, too. In 2013 he placed eighth overall in the Criterium du Dauphine to earn a start in the Tour de France and won the Tour of Alberta overall; while this year he finished second overall and won a mountain stage at the Tour of California and was also second overall in the Circuit de la Sarthe.
"I enjoyed the time there. I learned a lot about how to race as a professional," he said.
But no sooner had Dennis joined BMC and he was racing for them in the Eneco Tour. It was his first race on cobblestone windswept roads since his days as an amateur. But Dennis was better for the experience, even though after he was disappointed with his second place behind Dowsett in the Commonwealth Games time trial at Glasgow.
The Commonwealth Games silver was his fifth second place in a time trial for the season, making his disappointment even more acute.
"[When] Alex came through eight or nine seconds up, it was like someone had sucked every bit of happiness out of me," Dennis said. "But he was better than me on that day."
Grand tour breakthrough – La Vuelta …
After Glasgow, Dennis quickly found himself at the Vuelta where BMC's team was led by Spaniard Samuel Sanchez and included Australian Cadel Evans.
"I was a little bit nervous about making it the whole way," said Dennis whose goals were to claim his first finish in his second Grand Tour (injury forced him out of last year's Tour de France), ride well in the two individual time trials and help Sanchez and Evans. Dennis' one setback was in the 36.7km stage 10 stage time trial in which he placed 25th.
"My body didn't know what the hell to do," Dennis said. "I was good for eight minutes, then struggling to do 300 watts … I would have done more in Under 17s."
He finished the Vuelta well though, especially from stage 17 to the last and 21st stage, a 9.7km time trial where he was third. "The first week was the hardest. In the third week I came good," he said.
"I was in the breaks. My confidence came back in my ability and I could believe I could help the team than I had been up to that stage."
Just the tonic … the World Championships
Dennis signed off on what was an important year with a magnificent world road title. BMC won the team time trial, and he placed fifth in the individual time trial before backing up for the road race for Australia to help Simon Gerrans win silver.
After BMC's team time trial victory, Dennis said, "I don't think I gave one bit of thought about the [five] seconds or [two] thirds I had got all year. It was great to get in the huddle … but there was also a relief I could have just sat there and smiled."
Dennis said his fifth in the time trial was the icing on the cake. "My goal was top five and to get that close …," he said. "Last year I was [12th] at 3:09 and this year it was 57 seconds. It's a huge improvement on my behalf, or they have got a lot slower.
"Physiological maturity was a big factor. I was still holding my power to that [last] climb."
Grand tour dreams …
Rest assured, Dennis still harbours Grand Tour ambitions further down the track. He climbs and time trials well. He now knows he can finish a Grand Tour well, and he is on a strong team time trial squad at BMC. He just needs time to develop.
"That's a big goal of mine, Dennis said. "Time trials are obviously a huge strength of mine, so there is no reason is should throw that out the window.
"I need to look at World and Olympic time trials to target and Grand Tour stages and overall general classification. It may or may not be possible. I will definitely try."
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer on The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)
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