Bahrain-Merida have confirmed that Rohan Dennis has a future at the team, but they will continue to look into the 'accumulation of factors' that led the Australian to climb off his bike at the feed zone on stage 12 of the Tour de France.
Dennis' sudden exit was shrouded in mystery. His team raised eyebrows when they issued a mid-race statement saying they were investigating the matter, and Bahrain-Merida directeur sportif Gorazd Štangelj could offer no explanation beyond the fact that Dennis had refused to say anything to him.
Rumours of unrest and equipment issues have circulated overnight, but not a great deal more light was shed in Pau the following morning, where Dennis should have been racing in the colours of world time trial champion. With the team's general manager Brent Copeland currently away from the Tour, John Allert, managing director of McLaren's pro cycling arm, was sent out to take questions from the press.
"We're obviously very disappointed, and no one is more disappointed about what happened yesterday than Rohan himself. It's a very complicated situation, and a very sensitive situation," said Allert, who revealed Dennis had been joking around with his teammates in what was a "relaxed" atmosphere at the hotel on Thursday night.
"It's complicated. I'd love to say there was just one reason. I think there's probably an accumulation of reasons. Some of those reasons I can talk about. Some of them are probably best for Rohan to talk about when he feels ready. I'd love to say: it's simple, it's one thing, but the fact is it's not. It's complicated, it's sensitive, and, foremost out of respect to Rohan, I don't want to go into any great detail.
"I spent time with Rohan last night and he wants to regroup and recover. No one knows Rohan better than Rohan himself. He's an elite athlete who is proven on the world stage to perform at the absolute outer extremes of what he's capable of doing. If he doesn't feel he was going to be able to do that... I can't judge that, and he needs to make that call himself.
"The fact is, in elite sport you have the working together of all sorts of things in the ecosystem of performance. That's the athlete, the bike, the team, the environment... it's everyone working together and if those things are not coming together in a way that an elite athlete feels represents an opportunity to perform at his maximum… We've seen this happen before and we'll see it happen again. Unfortunately, it's happened to somebody who has a lot of fans here in France and back in Australia, and he deeply regrets the fact they're not going to see him race.
"The Tour is three weeks of headlines. I'd just like to make clear, though, this is not as simple as headlines. This is a complicated situation, and this is far more than just a media story; this is a human performance story. I understand it causes headlines but it's far more than just a headline grabber."
Asked about rumours of arguments in the team camp ahead of Thursday's stage, Allert stated: "No, it has absolutely had nothing to do with an argument before the race."
Allert said the investigation into the matter was ongoing, but he asserted that Dennis' future at the team is not under threat at this stage.
"Rohan is a contracted rider, he's a rider the team loves. He spent time with the other riders last night and everyone has kind of huddled around him. He's a contracted rider. We're in the epicentre of the situation and it's too soon to make any great judgement calls on what happens in the coming weeks and months, other than he's a required rider in team Bahrain-Merida."
When asked about possible disciplinary procedures, Allert responded: "You're assuming there is reason for disciplinary action.
"At the moment, we're not talking about a disciplinary process; we're talking about a process that better understands and quantifies how we got to where we are. There are a number of factors there and it would be completely wrong for anyone to assume the number one factor is Rohan and therefore that that would require a disciplinary process.
"The investigation is not over. The investigation is really a process. It's not a police style investigation; it's a process for us to understand how an accumulation of different factors can lead to a guy feeling he can't perform at his optimum. Nobody is apportioning blame anywhere at the moment."
Dennis is now set to head home from France before racing according to his planned schedule in the last part of the season. His programme includes the World Championships in Yorkshire, likely to be preceded by the Tour of Britain earlier in September. The Vuelta a España is also a possibility.
"Rohan has a pre-agreed schedule for the rest of the season. We'll pick up the pieces over the coming days and weeks, we'll give Rohan some space to regroup, then we'll be in discussion about what the rest of the season looks like," said Allert. "But he has a pre-agreed schedule of races and we don't see that changing for any particular reason so long as he's able to perform at his optimum."
In the wake of the incident, equipment issues have been linked to the malaise that led Dennis to abandon. The world champion is said to be highly exacting when it comes to the minor details of his set-up, and Allert admitted the team are not yet where they want to be in terms of equipment.
"Just like in F1, the whole arms race for performance is an organic process not a process with a beginning and an end. You get to races like the Tour and at some point you have to freeze frame with the performance you have at that moment in time and say that's not necessarily always where we would have wanted it to be," Allert said.
"It's fair to say there was a contributing factor, that we'd have liked to bring more performance here than we've been able to, but you only have to go back to Suisse, where Rohan was able to perform at his optimum, and I think that would suggest we don't have any fundamental issues with any of the equipment in this team."
As for the extent of Dennis' demands, Allert said: "If you have riders who don't have an ambition to push the envelope, within the rules of the sport, they're the wrong riders."
In the here and now, Dennis would have been the favourite for Friday's 27.2km individual time trial in Pau. Had he won, it would have been a huge moment for himself and his team. If not, it would still have been an important moment for the team's sponsors, with the world champion showcasing their products on the biggest stage.
Allert simply stated the sponsors were "disappointed" not to see Rohan race, but that they remained committed partners. As for the atmosphere among the riders, Dennis was apparently joking around at the team hotel.
"He spoke to his teammates last night. I've spoken to riders at length as well. It's not appropriate for me to talk about what goes on inside the team to that extent, other than all the riders have expressed support for Rohan. They were relaxed, Rohan had a few jokes with them, and he's a cool character. The whole team, but particularly the riders, are keen to see Rohan back at full strength."
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