A simple heart emoji on Twitter from Tao Geoghegan Hart said it all: Rohan Dennis' selfless efforts on the Passo dello Stelvio on stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia on Thursday helped his young Ineos Grenadiers teammate to an eventual second place on the stage and moved him up to third place overall, just 15 seconds down on new race leader Wilco Kelderman and three seconds behind Kelderman's Sunweb teammate Jai Hindley.
Dennis even came away with the Giro's Cima Coppi prize – awarded to the first rider over the race's highest point, which was the Stelvio this year – and then continued to work for Geoghegan Hart on the descent, after which three, two and one seconds were on offer at the day's bonus sprint, with the Ineos pair cleverly securing the three seconds for Geoghegan Hart, while Dennis took second place and what could be a vital second from their breakaway companion Hindley.
Only then did Dennis leave Geoghegan Hart and Hindley to their dual up the day’s final climb to Laghi di Cancano, where the Australian climber got the better of his British counterpart to take the stage victory for Sunweb.
"I didn’t expect to be the first on the Stelvio," Dennis told Italian TV channel RAI. "It's a sharp climb, and I was just trying to split the peloton for Tao. But I felt good, so I just kept going. I gave it everything, but I'm happy to win the Cima Coppi and to have helped Tao, who let me go over the top first.
"It's difficult when people say I'm not a team player because I give everything for the team when I can," he said. "I'm happy that Ineos Grenadiers support me and didn't believe a lot of the crap that was said behind my back."
Dennis is a dedicated time-trial specialist, but quit his then Bahrain Merida team midway through last year's Tour de France, frustrated that he and the team weren't suited to each other's way of working.
"It's not nice to be without a team, but they [Ineos] gave me a chance to prove myself," Dennis said after choosing to see out the rest of the 2019 season as a free agent, with the support of Cycling Australia, and returning to competition to defend his time trial world champion's title in Yorkshire at the end of the season. He then joined Ineos in 2020.
"Tao is on a learning curve and growing fast. We were shocked when Geraint Thomas crashed out, and all the roles in the team changed," he said, with Giro leader Thomas forced out of the race after breaking his pelvis on stage 3.
"Tao started to have a more important role, and we focused on the stages and to have the right rider in the right place. He's third now and it couldn't have gone much better," said Dennis.
The 30-year-old Australian took second place on the stage 14 time trial behind teammate Filippo Ganna, and will get another opportunity against the clock in Milan on Sunday – the final stage of this year's Giro – when Geoghegan Hart will have to be left to his own devices.
❤️ https://t.co/roEUbSWkjNOctober 22, 2020
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