Tour de France: Bahrain-Merida left wondering at Dennis' sudden abandon

The mystery surrounding reigning UCI time trial world champion Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) and his sudden abandon from the Tour de France has continued to deepen after the end of stage 12.

The bare bones of the matter are that Dennis abandoned the Tour at the feed zone, travelled to the finish by a team car, spent some time on the team bus and then left accompanied only by his agent and the team's press officer after refusing to talk to reporters.

When the Bahrain-Merida team cars swung to a halt next to the team bus, the initial pre-finish crowd of half a dozen journalists had swelled into several dozen, with team staff sparing no effort in ensuring riders entered the bus quickly, and without making any comments to reporters.

When sports director Gorazd Štangelj finally faced the press, he was barely visible behind a sea of microphones and TV cameras, with one reporter stretched out along a convenient garden wall to ensure he could hear the explanations.

Yet what Štangelj actually had to say was hardly enlightening – more that Dennis was, he thought, in good enough condition to continue racing, and he was as baffled as anybody as to why he had quit.

"We are also confused," Štangelj told reporters. "Let's say I'm disappointed about what happened earlier today because actually we expected a big effort from him tomorrow. It was his decision today to stop in the feed zone, we stopped also with the car and tried to find a solution, he just said, 'I don't want to talk' and abandoned the race."

As for Dennis' physical fitness, Štangelj said, "I think his condition is not bad, so his condition is good enough to perform in the Tour de France."

Stanglez denied the rumours of an argument with Dennis at the team bus in the morning, although there have been reports that Dennis was in a volatile mood close to the actual start itself. Štangelj added that he had told Dennis to save energy for tomorrow's time trial, where the Australian would, logically, have been a top favourite.

Any chance of communication between team and rider, however, seems to have been utterly ineffective.

"When we came to the feed zone, we just saw his bike behind our feed zone car," Štangelj said. "But it was too late, so we stopped further on the parcours and I couldn't turn round and come back, so we called the feedzone car to put Rohan on the phone. And Rohan answered, 'I don't want to talk'."

Rumours have suggested that Dennis may have had some issues with equipment in the team earlier this year, but whilst Stangelz admitted that although there had been some lengthy conversations about Dennis' time trial bike, solutions had always been found when they were needed.

He did concede that Dennis is "a special guy".

"All the champions are," Štangelj said. "He wants to have everything 100 per cent, and it's not easy to have everything 100 per cent in the race."

Tension at the impromptu press conference mounted when a reporter began his question by telling Štangelj that the team's lack of comment on the situation led many to draw the worst possible conclusion. The premise of the question drew a rather testy, repeated, response from Štangelj.

"What is the worst conclusion?" he asked. "What is the worst conclusion?"

The reporter, who assured Štangelj that he was simply trying get clarity on the situation, said that the lack of comment from the team would cause people to speculate that "there may be a doping concern or something like that."

This drew another frosty reply from the Bahrain-Merida director.

"I have commented," Štangelj insisted. "Don't put words in my mouth."

When the reporter denied putting words in Štangelj's mouth, the director said, "Yes, you did. You just did."

Although the team has launched an investigation to find out what actually happened and why Dennis pulled himself from the race, Štangelj insisted that it was far too early to talk about possible "consequences" – presumably an oblique reference to potential penalties.

"Now is the moment to clear things up and take decision for the future. I didn't have a problem with him this season," he said of Dennis.

However, the team's sense that the Tour is now a lost opportunity for Dennis, second overall in the Tour de Suisse, was palpable, with Štangelj answering one reporter's comment that "it's difficult to win the race if you are not in it" with a wry reply from Štangelj of "this is even more difficult, yes."

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