Rohan Dennis has revealed he was on a ‘slippery slope’ to an eating disorder last year, after trying to lose weight in order to compete for overall titles at stage races and Grand Tours.
A few years ago, Dennis, a former track rider and current time trial world champion, announced his intention to become a Grand Tour contender within four years. That process was delayed but never taken off the table, and his potential was underlined last year when he placed second at the Tour de Suisse.
However, Dennis will now scrap the Grand Tour project, focusing instead on time trial titles – the Olympics and Worlds are his key 2020 targets – as well as the odd week-long stage race.
In an interview with the Adelaide Advertiser, Dennis opened up about the struggles he faced with his approach to food and his weight.
"Last year I was thinking ‘you know what? it’s probably something that physically I can do - be a Grand Tour rider - and I have the capabilities. But I just don’t know if I want to go down the road, and I’ll be honest with you, I started to eat and not eat and was on that slippery slope of a complex or disorder," he said.
"It got to a point where I was putting on weight, I would have one beer but then feel guilty and wouldn’t eat at training the next day, so then I couldn’t train properly, I wouldn’t do a good session, eat minimal and bonk again. Then you think you’re shit, you feel down and you keep going."
Coupled with the desire to be light was the mental stress of a messy split from his Bahrain-Merida team, following his sudden exit from the Tour de France. In the aftermath, Dennis withdrew from social media and started focusing on the World Championships, pointing to his head as he crossed the line and praising his psychologist, David Spindler.
Dennis’s victory in Yorkshire was emphatic, suggesting his preparation had been flawless, but the struggles with his weight had persisted right up to the flight to the UK.
"I got down to 68kg just before Worlds but that was due to stress, and I was eating between 100 and 300g of chocolate every night on top of all my other food," he said.
"I ended up having to get on creatine and whey protein powder to bring me back up to my time trial weight, which is 70-71kg. I’m still lean at that weight but I’m [now] not looking in the mirror and thinking ‘you’re too skinny’, and that’s where I was at before Worlds."
After an appearance at the Bay Crits last week, Dennis will officially begin his 2020 campaign and make his Ineos debut at the Australian national time trial championship on Wednesday, where he’ll be looking to take the title back from Luke Durbridge. Later this month, he’ll race the Tour Down Under, before heading to Europe ahead of the Giro d’Italia in May.
After the Giro, which features three time trials, he’ll focus on Olympic gold in the summer – following a frustrating day in Rio four years ago – before looking to add a third straight World title in Switzerland in September.
A Grand Tour bid was always unlikely in an Olympic year, but Dennis now concedes he may never try to emulate Bradley Wiggins, a fellow former pursuit rider who won the Tour de France with Ineos in 2012.
"I pulled the reins on that a fair bit earlier last year, it’s not worth having a disorder," he said.
"I am not someone who is naturally really skinny. I’m not a big guy either but I do put on weight fairly quickly when it comes to cycling and bulk up quite easily compared to guys like [Egan] Bernal and these pure climbers. I’m not sure if it’s really worth going through the stress of trying to match that. I’m more comfortable with still having a life off the bike and being the best in the world at something."