Rohan Dennis has spoken for the first time since quitting the Tour de France, confirming he is targeting the time trial at the UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire. He is also confident that he will ride for Bahrain-Merida in 2020 despite his fall-out with the WorldTour team.
Dennis abandoned the Tour de France part way through stage 12 to Bagnères-de-Bigorre in July, one day before the 27km individual time trial in Pau. Bahrain-Merida indicated that they were unaware of the reasons why Dennis pulled out of the race.
It was reported that Dennis and management at Bahrain-Merida had been having disagreements over his equipment and skinsuit, however, neither Dennis nor the team have confirmed that such disagreements were the direct cause of his abandon.
"What I did was pull out of a race, it's been blown out of proportion so much that people have slammed me for being everything under the sun," Dennis said in an interview with Adelaide’s The Advertiser.
"I've read pretty well every post (on social media) and people didn't get a response from me so they started sending my wife direct messages."
Dennis refrained from commenting to the press on his reasons for abandoning the Tour de France, but directly following stage 12 Bahrain-Merida’s directeur sportif Gorazd Štangelj held a press conference outside the team bus, only to say that he was also confused and disappointed that his rider left the race. Dennis said that the media storm that followed caused him to cancel his Twitter account.
"I've come off Twitter and haven't got into a slandering match because we have given other people the chance to try to sort this out in a mature way," Dennis told The Advertiser. "I don't want to put any more fuel on the fire.
"Not once did I bad-mouth any sponsor or the team or any other rider when I pulled out or before I pulled out in the media. I was more than happy to talk to the media until that last day.
"Have other people said things and put out rumours? Yes. But I haven't. It's only fair for all parties."
Dennis admitted that the aftermath of his abandoning the Tour de France has led to the most challenging period of his career. He said it was the first time that he had pulled out of a bike race when it was not pre-planned or due to injury.
He confirmed that his early departure from the Tour de France was not pre-planned and that it was a moment’s decision taken in the middle of stage 12.
"It wasn't pre-planned, it wasn't a stunt. I was talking to my manager before the start and we agreed on finishing the stage and dealing with everything else after but I knew that by pulling out in the short term I'd have to deal with some shit, some backlash – I didn't expect it to be this big because it's a bike race – but long term it was the best thing for me to do," Dennis said.
"The whole stage I was thinking about everything and it was a battle in my own head for a fair chunk of the day. And if someone is not in the right headspace in a team environment, if someone is not happy, maybe it's also the best thing for the team, and I spoke to the guys at the hotel that night and there were no hard feelings.
"They didn't expect it to happen, even [Vincenzo] Nibali said, 'I followed you to where you pulled off and had to get going again,' but it wasn't like they felt like I'd dogged them. They said, 'OK, you're out, all good.'"
Yorkshire Worlds and Tokyo Olympics
Dennis has not raced since abandoning the Tour de France, although there was a possibility that he'd start the Vuelta a España. However, that didn’t happen, and so he has put all of his attention into training for his title defence at the upcoming 54km time trial at the World Championships.
He has been seeing his sports psychologist, David Spindler, on a regular basis from his home in Andorra.
"Physically, I'm still as good as I was last year and my power profile test that I did two weeks ago was the best numbers I've done ever," Dennis told The Advertiser.
"Mentally, I have days where it's hard but I believe I can still win [in Yorkshire]. It's more of a mental battle because all I've got is training. I don't have any racing to push me where I would have had goals to target stages and what not at the Vuelta.
"That would have been the perfect preparation, to get a huge base behind me. We were going to do the full Vuelta to test whether I could get the same physical response from doing a full Grand Tour potentially leading into Tokyo next year, which is after the Tour de France.
"I still wanted to do the Vuelta but obviously it didn't happen," he said.
Dennis said that not racing the Vuelta a España meant that it has been harder to prepare for the Worlds, but that his coaches have changed his training to accommodate time-trial-specific workouts.
"My sports psych is doing the last two weeks of preparation with me and to give some support. It hasn't been super easy, to be honest."
Dennis confirmed that he will race on an unmarked time trial bike during the World Championships, along with components from the Australian national team.
"It is what they [national team] deem the best thing for my body shape and my position for me to try to win," Dennis said.
After abandoning the Tour de France, Dennis returned to Andorra to decompress and then travelled to Tokyo to preview the courses for the 2020 Olympic Games. He said that aside from the Yorkshire World Championships, his next big target will be the time trial at the Olympics.
"I am motivated by Tokyo, but I'm more driven by the Worlds this year, to be honest. I've got that target first and I'm not trying to look too far ahead," Dennis told The Advertiser.
"Tokyo is still a big goal of mine and going there seeing the course and what will give me the best opportunity to win with [coach] Neal [Henderson] and the Aussie national team, it was also a good thing mentally to get into that environment with those people in the national team who are fully backing me: Brad McGee, Paul Brosnan and Simon Jones – who wasn't there but is fully supportive of me being in the Australian team."
Dennis said that he doesn’t know if Bahrain-Merida have plans to race him for the rest of 2019, but that he has a contract with the team through 2020.
"I've pushed a win in every race I've been told to try to win this year," he said. "I was second at the Tour de Suisse and won a stage there, and got fifth at the Tour Down Under, and I've only tried to improve the team. At the moment, yeah, I'll be there [next season]."