Less than a week has gone past since the Tour de France finished but for many star riders who spent July away from racing, including Australia's Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team), the Tour de Pologne has already raised the curtain on what looks set to be an intriguing second half of the season.
The 27-year-old had a first half of 2017 with very mixed fortunes. A crash out of the Giro d'Italia in the first week was one major setback, but two wins in the Tour de Suisse, bookending the race in its two time trials, were the latest triumphs in a series of victories stretching back as far as the Australian Time Trial Nationals in January.
There are no time trials – Dennis' strongest suit, but far from his only one – in the Tour de Pologne, where he's currently taking part. But as Dennis told Cyclingnews at the start of the opening stage in Krakow's main square, his remaining top 2017 objectives are likely a little further down the line than in Eastern Europe's premier stage race.
"I'm not too worried about what goes on here," Dennis says. "I've been out of racing for just over a month, having not raced since Suisse. I'm looking to do well in the Vuelta a España and hopefully have a place for the World's, and that way I can come away a good result at the end of the year. Here it's more to get the legs moving, and if something happens, it happens."
As he eyes doing two Grand Tours in the same season for the first time in his career Dennis is moving into uncharted waters in other ways. He has never raced in Poland before on the road, for thing although he says he has very good memories of his previous visit to the country, when he took part the 2009 Track World Championships just outside Warsaw. The Vuelta a España is more familiar territory, given he finished the race back in 2014, taking 84th and a third place in the last, short, time trial in Santiago de Compostela.
"I'll just be doing here and then go on to the Vuelta," Dennis says. "I've done a lot of racing before and if I try to do any more, there's only two weeks between here and the Vuelta's opening team time trial in Nimes. I'll be going for a stage or two there in the Vuelta, and if I can do well in them, that should transfer across to the GC."
The top of that particular Vuelta stage hit list comes as soon the first week. With Andorra as his base in Europe, Dennis knows the two climbs that will likely forge the first GC sort-out in the Vuelta on stage 3 – the first-category, 13-kilometre Col de la Rabassa in the Pyrenean mini-state and the second-category, 4.3-kilometre Alt de la Cornella straight after – 'very well.'
"We use them in training a lot. If I can stay with the GC guys there in the Vuelta, there's no reason why I shouldn't have a crack at the stage," he said.
"When it comes to the sprints with Caleb [Ewan-Orica Scott] and [Peter] Sagan [Bora-Hansgrohe] I stay out of them but I'm faster than the climbers in a sprint," he points out. Of course, fighting for a win on 'home soil' in Andorra would like be an extra motivation, too.
Further into the Spanish Grand Tour, Dennis will be banking to get a good result in the Vuelta's individual time trial in Logroño. Nor will BMC be lacking in collective objectives in the Vuelta, with a repeat victory in the opening team time trial, which they won two years ago in Marbella, high on their list of priorities, Dennis says. "We are one of the best teams at team time trialling, there's no reason why we shouldn't go for it."
"To tell you the truth, I actually got the TTs the wrong way round until about a week ago, I thought the team time trial was second up and the individual was the first one in the race. So the individual coming on stage 15 or 16, it will be a good little test for the legs for Norway."
As Dennis points out, should the Vuelta overall bid happen, it will be more of a bonus than anything else. Right now, he's currently hovering on an invisible line between going all out for GC – the Vuelta's recent history is littered with a fair few top time triallists who've then crossed successfully into Grand Tour specialists, after all – and not going for GC at all.
"The [pre-season] goal was going to be doing the two Grand Tours, but the Vuelta was never 100 per cent certain for GC. It was only after what happened in the Giro that that became a possibility," he said.
"It's more a question of getting the confidence back for the Grand Tours. The Giro was a confidence hit, but I did manage to get back into things in Suisse, even if there was a crash [which cost him all chance of defending his lead] as well.
"I'm not totally sold on the GC in the Vuelta, I think it could be a bit too much to do that and then go for the Worlds, but I'm not going to throw it away, either, if my legs are good."
Yet another factor in this tricky equation is that Dennis did an excellent World Championships after his 2014 Vuelta, finishing fifth in the individual TT in Ponferrada and forming part of the winning TTT squad.
There are definite benefits to be reaped, then for Dennis in taking part in the Spanish Grand Tour. With what approach in 2017, though, will probably only become clear some time on the afternoon of August 21, when the Vuelta a España hits its first big climbs in Andorra.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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