The Australian national time trial is an event close to Rohan Dennis' heart, and the 26-year-old now has two career ITT titles to his name after claiming his first win of the 2017 season at the championships Thursday. Looking ahead, however, Dennis isn't placing as much importance on racing against the clock as in previous seasons, as he embarks on a four-year project to become a bona fide general classification rider.
Despite being on antibiotics leading into the 40.9-km race which was held in hot and windy conditions in Ballarat, Dennis demonstrated the speed and aerodynamic tuck that saw him claim the opening time trial stage of the 2015 Tour de France and announce himself as one the top time trialists in the peloton.
"This year is all about learning so that might mean I actually don't get any results this year," Dennis said after claiming the green and gold jersey and suggesting it may be his sole win of the season. "I might look like I am complete crap to be honest. It is what I am going to learn and I might fail, really fail when it comes to the Giro but it is all about learning to look after myself for three weeks and then make those small steps over the next three years and hopefully I see the light at the end of the tunnel come 2020."
An overall winner of the Tour Down Under and USA Pro Challenge in 2015, Dennis was second overall at the Tour of California and Tour of Britain last season , and led the Eneco Tour on the final day of the race before abandoning, to enhance his reputation as a stage racer. All while building his season around claiming gold in the Olympic Games time trial where he suffered the misfortune of a snapped handlebar while riding into a medal winning position.
Dennis is skipping the Australian road race, to "go home and clear the head and keep that one race day in the pocket" before turning domestique de luxe for Richie Porte at the Tour Down Under. He will then race the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race before heading to Europe for his first personal objectives of the new year to continue his GC ‘apprenticeship' as he explained with May's Giro d'Italia the Grand Tour of choice for 2017.
"I have Provence which is sort of warm up race when I get to Europe to get used to the weather and type of racing again to get into mode," he said of his early-season race programme. "Tirreno, Catalunya, Trentino, [and] the Giro so it is still quite heavy but it is not stupid at that same time. There is no pressure on me this year to be the GC guy on the team. We still have Richie and Tejay and we have Nico Roche as well who is super strong when it comes to GC so its about that progression over the next four years to move into a full time GC and try and learn off those guys and hopefully be on the podium."
Since his Grand Tour debut at the 2013 Tour de France, Dennis has ridden the French three-week race on two other occasions and the 2014 Vuelta s Espana but is it to race the Giro.
Dennis' preparation for the season has reflected his new focus and goals for later in the year. Compared to 2015 when he was focused on the breaking the World Hour record, which he successfully did, Dennis explained that 2017 heralds his new approach to focusing later in the season and trying to avoid a peak in January which he could not hold to April or May.
"If you come absolutely flying you have the risk of hitting an absolute hole and boring in and going into a bigger hole when you really need to be flying. We've been pretty conscious about that with my training and that is why I haven't been doing the specific high intensity work for time trials, more base," he said. "The specific stuff is quite minimal at the moment so its good to get this out of the way and be going the same as what I was last year but also lighter and stronger for road races."
There is no doubting the importance of the physical in Dennis' maturation and development into a general classification rider. Riding alongside teammate and compatriot Richie Porte at last year's Tour, where the Tasmanian was fifth overall, showed Dennis the equal importune of mental fortitude and not letting bad luck win out.
"When things go wrong, don't throw the towel in. you saw he lost two minutes on stage 2, he hit the motorbike up Ventoux which lost him time he could have gained but he never really gave in. He keep boring in and in hindsight, he should have been on the podium but he wasn't, he was fifth," Dennis explained. "Still, he kept going and didn't let any bad luck get in his way. I think that is the man thing to take away from the Tour, or what he did last year, things don't always go right. The same with Chris Froome, he crashed the last couple of days, and you just have to put your head down and get to the finish."
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