Rohan Dennis: I've always aimed for the top step at the Tour of California

After a two-year absence from the Amgen Tour of California, two-time runner-up Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) will return to the WorldTour race this year looking to climb onto the top step of the final overall podium in Pasadena.

"Every time I've been to California, I've always aimed for the top step, and this year is no different," the reigning time trial world champion said in an interview published on the race website. "The only difference this year is that I don't have a time trial to help me with that."

Indeed, the 2019 race route lacks a race against the clock, meaning that Dennis will have to earn the overall victory on the many climbs spread throughout the seven-day race, including the stage 2 trek to South Lake Tahoe and the stage 6 summit finish on Mt. Baldy.

Dennis, who made his debut in California as a neo-pro with Garmin in 2013, has found success on the climbs in California before, having won the stage to Mt. Diablo in 2014 when he finished second overall to Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky). Riding for Garmin at the time, Dennis accelerated on the final steep pitch to the summit finish and took the stage win by six seconds. Wiggins, who had won the previous day's time trial by 44 seconds over Dennis, lost 20 seconds on the stage but kept his yellow jersey.

"I honestly wasn't feeling great that day," Dennis said, five years after the fact. "I crashed on stage 1 pretty hard and it knocked me around a bit. I simply switched my brain off after about halfway, and I really only believed I could give the stage a crack at 1.5km to go."

In the end, Dennis was second overall to Wiggins by 30 seconds when the race concluded in Thousand Oaks.

Dennis returned in 2016 with BMC Racing and won the individual time trial stage, but he couldn't overcome the lead Etixx-QuickStep's Julian Alapihlippe had built up with his stage win on Gibraltar Road outside Santa Barbara. Alaphilippe beat Dennis by 21 seconds in the overall classification when the race finished in Sacramento.

In 2019, Dennis will be back with a new team and new motivation as he builds form for the Tour de France in July. The race starts on Sunday, May 12, with a sprinters' stage in Sacramento. The riders will then need their climbing legs on stage 2, which is a long uphill trek to South Lake Tahoe. Stages 3, 4 and 5 are difficult. but have finishes suited for breakaways or reduced-bunch sprints. 

The 'queen stage' on the penultimate day takes the riders to the summit of Mt. Baldy – a climb Dennis has yet to face in a race. The final stage on Saturday, May 18, is another tough stage to Pasadena, where the race concludes with several quick laps around the Rose Bowl. 

"I love the Amgen Tour of California, and I have really missed it over the last two seasons," Dennis said. "It’s a hard race but not stressful, so in my eyes it's a great way to find your legs and still be able to enjoy it."

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