Rohan Dennis may have won an Olympic medal and the world time trial title, twice, but there’s no taking for granted that come January he’ll automatically jump to the top step of the time trial podium as that is when his key rival for Australia's national title, Luke Durbridge (BikeExchange-Jayco), excels.
Durbridge may not have the depth of Dennis’ time trialling palmarès but as the new Jumbo-Visma rider pointed out in a post-race interview at the AusCycling Road National Championships, even being reigning World Champion in the discipline is not enough to make you a sure thing for the green and gold stripes. When Dennis lined up in that position at the start of 2019 and 2020, he didn’t win. Durbridge did.
“There is a reason they call him the King of January,” quipped Dennis, referring to Durbridge’s strength in the Australian summer racing both in the time trial and on the road.
This year, though, with the time trial in Australia his first race in new team colours of Jumbo-Visma, Dennis was determined that he’d get back the title he took for three years running from 2016-2018. He carefully maintained focus, drawing extra training motivation from that goal, through two weeks in hotel quarantine – a condition of his entry to Australia at the time he returned – and beyond.
“Training's been going well. A lot of it is confidence, and I just had confidence in what I was doing today. I didn't stress,” Dennis said, emanating a relaxed and buoyant attitude after his national title win on Wednesday. “I knew that if I could do the numbers I was doing in training, that everything would be good.”
“I was in the right headspace [during the time trial] and calm enough to just go ok I can just get it done and everything should be right. So I just have to put it down to training and confidence."
It was a big result, not only because it was a national title victory but also because of when and how Dennis did it. It wasn’t just a win, but a win that started him off on the right foot in his first race with Jumbo-Visma and with a time of 45:33, 1 minute and 13 seconds ahead of the BikeExchange-Jayco rider on the hilly 37.5-kilometre course near Ballarat. The average speed was 49.39 kph.
Now Durbridge and Dennis both have four national elite time trial titles each, though there may still be some competition between the pair left to play out this week.
The 31-year-old Dennis didn’t come back to Australia last year, but the two previous years he raced the the time trial and nothing else. Last time he lined up in the road race at the National Championships was 2018, but he’s decided it's on the agenda this year and what’s more he will be tackling Sunday’s race with an eye to the podium, preferably the top step.
“I would love to win the road race. I've never finished the road race so if I win it the first time I finish it, that'd be good," Dennis said with a grin. "Not that I'm going to pull out if I know I'm not going to win – a podium is still a great achievement in that race.”
Dennis pointed to the challenges, Durbridge again being one of them, with the 2013 road race title winner even harder to beat on the road than in the time trial, not that he was easy to beat there either.
Then there is the fact that Jumbo-Visma will be lining up with just two in the team, Dennis and Chris Harper, against the packed domestic squads who are likely to be quick to use their numbers against the top tier riders, particularly one showing such blistering time trial winning form.
"I just think we just have to be pretty smart," said Dennis. "Don't overexert and just sort of play the cards as they come,” said Dennis. It's not going to be easy. Obviously, a lot of teams have five, six, maybe eight, 10 guys and hopefully we are just stronger than them and we can outsmart."
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