From the experienced team director's point of view, Dennis can become a GC contender in the Giro d'Italia and will have freedom to manouvre in that aspect depending on how the race plays out. But as Ochowicz points out, too, the 2017 Giro d'Italia represents a significant broadening of Dennis' stage racing aspirations.
"His first objective is to finish the Giro d'Italia," Ochowicz told Cyclingnews on Saturday's start in Olbia. "His second objective is to go for the time trials because he's highly skilled at that, and then [a third] is to balance out the day-to-day routine of being three weeks on the road with the team."
Dennis has ridden the Tour de France three times, his best result coming in 2015 in 101st place after winning the opening time trial, but it has always been with very specific goals in mind, never GC related.
In 2013, his debut Grand Tour, he abandoned on stage 9 and on again the second rest day in 2016 – on the latter Tour, to begin his build-up for the Rio Games. He has already finished the Vuelta a España, in 2014, in 84th place. But the 2017 Giro represents his first real challenge as a GC racer.
Regarding how his role will work out alongside Tejay van Garderen in the Giro d'Italia, Ochowicz said "he'll maybe do some work for Tejay, he'll maybe work for somebody else." He also highlighted Dennis' willingness to do that when needed, as well as Dennis' overall versatility.
"He'll step up directly, you don't have to get on the radio and say 'you have got to get up there', he does it. He can go solo, he can go in a group and climb, he doesn't have to fight for position in the peloton on the flatter stages because he's good at holding his line, and of course he'll be able to take advantage of his ability in the time trials."
Italy certain has smiled on the young Australian so far this year. After a very strong ride in Tirreno-Adriatico, finishing second, winning the final time trial and leading for one day, Dennis said that after Rio last summer he had already formed a four year plan for seeing how he could perform in Grand Tours.
"I'll be there as a last resort to help if it's needed, but if it's not needed then I've got a free role," Dennis, who will turn 27 on the last day of the Giro d'Italia in Milan, told Cyclingnews back in March. "So it's about learning how to look after myself for the three weeks to, hopefully, one day, become the leader for the whole three weeks."
In the very mountainous Tour of the Alps, his last warm-up race before the Giro d'Italia, Dennis garnered a stage win and 19th place overall, but his week-long stage racing ability already was evident in Tirreno this year. Ochowicz is confident that that a transition process in the Grand Tours can take place fast enough in the Giro d'Italia for Dennis to become a GC contender during the race.
"Absolutely. This is really his first chance to do that, where he's got the freedom without too much responsibility to take care of Tejay because we've got enough enough people to do that. When he [Dennis] is going to step in, he will, and meantime he'll focus on the day-to-day, how to ride a stage race and handle all of this."
Ochowicz argues that the key difference for Dennis will be between focusing on the time trials in Grand Tours, and combining that time trial angle with defending his GC position on all the stages.
"You've got make some efforts in the hills, because it's relatively easy to sit there on the climbs and then do a good time trial. But now he has to do the work on the stage before the time trial and still time trial well." And in that subtle but significant widening of objectives, Dennis could be looking at beginning the road towards GC contention, some time in the future.
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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