World Championships: Dennis chasing elusive rainbow jersey in the individual time trial

Rohan Dennis’ stellar career as an individual time trial specialist lacks just one major victory – a world title. The Australian is aiming to fill that void at the 2018 UCI Road World Championships on September 26 in Innsbruck, Austria.

“I’ve prepared specifically for this individual time trial in Innsbruck,” Dennis told Cyclingnews Saturday morning, after his warm up with BMC Racing on the team time trial course.

“Winning a world title is a big goal of mine. It’s something that I’ve always wanted. I want to win it even if it’s just once in my career, that would be perfect.”

Dennis, 28, has been one of the sport’s most accomplished time triallists during his decade-long career. In his development years as an under-23 racer, he was second at the 2012 World Championships. He moved up to the WorldTour ranks with Garmin-Sharp in 2013, and two years later he joined the BMC Racing team where he has spent the past five seasons.

His palmares includes individual time trial victories in stages at Tour de France in 2015, and at both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España this year. He’s won time trial stages at the Tour of California, USA Pro Challenge, Eneco Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour de Suisse and the Abu Dhabi Tour, along with three elite national titles, and he briefly held the World Hour Record.

This year alone he’s won six individual time trials. And so, it may come as a surprise to some that Dennis has never stood on the podium in the event at the elite men’s World Championships.

“I’ve never won an individual world title on the road, at all,” Dennis said. “I was second in under-23s, and since then I’ve been able to win everything during the season, but I haven’t been able to nail it at this time of the year at the World Championships.

“I haven’t been on the podium either, mostly because of luck issues; mechanicals, crashes, bikes breaking, and so it’s a little bit of these issues that have caused me not to be on the podium.”

The elite men’s individual time trial is 52.5km, starting in Rattenberg and finishing in Innsbruck. The first 30km is flat along the Inn Valley. The riders will cross over a bridge to the northern side of the Inn river, where they will hit the main climb from Fritzens to Gnadenwald: a 5km ascent averaging 7.1 per cent and with pitches as steep as 14 per cent, totalling 350 vertical metres of elevation gain. The riders then descend toward the finish line.

Dennis will start the time trial as one of the favourites, particularly after recently winning the prologue and the stage 16 individual time trial at the Vuelta a España. “If everything goes right, I’ve done the preparation, and I have the form,” he said.

He was reluctant to call himself an out-right favourite, and instead acknowledged that both he and defending champion Tom Dumoulin will be starting the event as the top contenders to win. He reminded that they will face tough opponents in former titleholders Tony Martin and Vasil Kiryienka.

“Tom and I, yes ... but then there are always going to be riders like Kiryienka and Martin, who are experienced with long time trials,” he said.

“I don’t know how Tony is going because he hasn’t raced since the Tour. There are guys who will push us. I can’t go into it thinking of myself as being the favourite, otherwise, I’ll lose.”

The racing kicks off for Dennis and his BMC teammates at the team time trial on Sunday. He's been part of the team’s success in the discipline, winning world titles in 2014 in Ponferrada and 2015 in Richmond. He was also part of the team that earned silver medals in 2016 in Doha to Quick-Step and last year in Bergen to Sunweb.

“We lost the team time trial at the Tour of Britain, recently, but our team has gone really well in the team time trial event this season,” said Dennis, optimistic that the team can win the title back with the selected roster of Patrick Bevin, Damiano Caruso, Stefan Küng, Greg Van Avermaet and Tejay van Garderen.

“We have a really strong team here, for this course,” he said. “The riders have changed a little bit compared to other years, but we had to take into account the climb on course, to make sure that we can get at least four guys over it, and hopefully more. It’s about getting strong riders for the flats and the climbs.”

The team time trial could mark Dennis’ final race with the BMC Racing team, as he is set to move to Bahrain-Merida next year. BMC will also become CCC, as the Polish shoe brand will take over title sponsorship in 2019. In addition, he and his wife are expecting their first baby, and that could decide whether he continues to race after Worlds.

“BMC are not with us next year, and so the team is not called BMC next year, so winning will be a good way to say ‘thank you,’” Dennis said.

“This is the end of the season for my personal ambitions, and after the time trial I’ll switch my brain off and work for my teammates. I have a couple of one-day races in Italy, but they are up for debate with potential family growth – a baby on the way – and I’m waiting to see if this is my last week of racing for the year.”

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