Rohan Dennis knew he was a minute up on Tom Dumoulin at the top of the Gnadenwald climb after 35km of the elite men's time trial at the UCI Road World Championships, but he stayed calm and collected, determined to finish off a superb performance and take his first ever world time trial title.
The 28-year-old's time trial talents have given him a haul of prestigious stage victories and Grand Tour leader's jerseys, but mechanicals, punctures and fatigue had in the past stopped him from fighting for the world title. A bad day for Dumoulin and Dennis' physical and mental maturity this year meant the Australian's winning margin was a huge 1:21.
"I honestly thought it would be a real battle. Even in the final kilometres I didn't believe it was a minute gap, so I pushed all the way to the finish," Dennis explained post-race, happy and smiling in his crisp new rainbow jersey.
Surprisingly, Dennis did not consider it one of his best ever time trial performances.
"Look at my numbers. It's up there with some of my best, but it's not the best. I did the same power as the hour record. Technically, it's not my best time trial, but I'm proud of how I put the power down and kept my head on my shoulders where needed," Dennis explained, confirming that a successful time trial is far more complex than just pushing a certain number of watts.
"I put down more speed where needed and did the execution on the flat in the valley. I put myself in the right position to not give it too much or too little. This time trial kind of finished at the top of the climb. It was a quick finale after that and I knew there would be minimal time differences."
Eternal rivalry with Dumoulin
Dennis and Dumoulin raced together on the Rabobank development squad back in 2011, where they were already rivals in time trials. Dennis finished second in the Tour de l'Avenir prologue time trial that year behind fellow Australian Michael Hepburn, one place ahead of Dumoulin.
Both developed quickly and but rarely went head to head in races, with Dumoulin developing and confirming his Grand Tour ability, while Dennis focused on time trial and prologue success and even the Hour Record in 2015.
Dumoulin is a few months younger and arguably more successful, but Dennis has kept him in his sights.
"He took a step forward quicker than me in 2014, and he was on the podium in the Ponferrada world championships and I've been chasing him ever since," Dennis recalled with respect for his rival.
"I'm glad today was my day, but I know that come next year he'll make me suffer and push me for the win. That's why I won't take today for granted. We've always had a civil fight; there's no hard feelings. He was one of the first to congratulate me and not half-heartedly. He was genuinely happy for me."
Dennis raced on a BMC time trial bike with the logo of his BMC Racing team on show on his helmet. However, he will move to Bahrain-Merida in 2019, deciding his future before CCC stepped in to save the US-registered WorldTour team.
A free hand at Bahrain-Merida, Tokyo Olympics in 2020
Dennis has Grand Tour ambitions, but his development has not been as constant as Dumoulin. The process will continue in 2019, with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics a major goal.
"It's a big goal, but it'll be a juggling match with Tom. I've got a free hand when it comes to Grand Tours in 2019, but I've spoken to (Bahrain-Merida team manager) Brent Copeland about how Tokyo is a big goal. They've taken that on board and support that," he explained.
A second attempt at the Hour Record is even further down Dennis' carefully considered career path.
"It's not planned for the next couple of years, it's something for the future. I'll give it another go in my thirties."
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