Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) says that he will play the team game at the UAE Tour this week. Dennis is lying just eight seconds off the race lead after helping his team to third place in the opening team time trial, but the 28-year-old is leaving the GC battle up to his new teammates Vincenzo Nibali and Damiano Caruso.
"That's up to the two Italians, Caruso and Nibali, I'm here as support. I had my chance at the Tour Down Under and now it's time to back off a bit until the Tour de France," said Dennis, as he warmed down following the ride.
Bahrain-Merida were the 10th team to leave the start ramp on Al Hudayriat and it was quickly apparent that they were in strong form as they smoothly exchanged positions and set the fastest intermediate time. Like many of the teams, they dropped down to the minimum four riders as they charged around the 16-kilometre course, but they were still comfortably the quickest as they crossed the finish line.
Their time at the top would be short-lived as Jumbo-Visma came through just a few minutes later and pushed them down a spot. Sunweb would bump them down another, but it was still a pleasing result given that they have not had much chance to race together.
"I saw the way that we were riding in training and I thought we could do top 5 if we did well. Obviously, you don't know how the other teams are going to go but I thought that the top 5 was possible," said Dennis. "It's a very good place to be. It's still going to come down to the big climbing stages and how everyone backs up day to day in February.
"It was quite good out there, it's our first team time trial as a team and there's only two guys, Heinrich [Haussler] and Vincenzo, that are not new as well. None of us has really done a team time trial together. I think that the execution was quite good today and it was a good start to the season."
The UAE Tour is only Dennis' second race with the Bahrain-Merida team after making his debut with the team at his home Tour Down Under last month. There has been a lot to get used to for Dennis, from new equipment to his new teammates, but the Australian says that he's settled in very well.
"It has been really welcoming and warm from the word go and it really helps that I'm not a neo-pro," said Dennis. "I'm a more established rider but I knew one rider in Bahrain and that’s it. Considering that was the case, everyone has been really good to me."