• Rohan Dennis (Getty Images) (GodingImages)Source: GodingImages
After a stellar season, BMC Racing Team’s Rohan Dennis seeks to elevate his achievements further while managing that short fuse he talked about during the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
Mary Topping

28 Aug 2015 - 10:48 AM  UPDATED 28 Aug 2015 - 10:49 AM

Dennis raced with enough aggression in Colorado to power the lights in Adelaide for weeks.

In three of six road stages, he dropped the field with a late move. Team-mate Brent Bookwalter said Dennis drove him “cross-eyed, biting my stem the whole time” as the Aussie surged uphill to Stage 2’s finale at 3300 metres.

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Dennis captured Stage 4 and the overall lead by launching from a steep ramp near the finish, but only after flinging a panini at a rider who attacked when Bookwalter, wearing the leader’s yellow jersey, had stopped for a nature break earlier in the day.

That exploit backed up a statement Dennis had made a couple of days prior.

“I’ve been known to sort of have a short fuse and I think cycling is the way I let that anger out…my art is cycling.”

He was referring to Taylor Phinney’s suggestion that painting would be a good outlet for anger.

When asked later if he’d been channelling a certain anger to earn the overall Colorado win, Dennis smiled and responded, “I think yes and no.” His next comments demonstrated how deploying emotion to generate extra watts is a tricky business.

“I think there are times when I’ve been super angry in a race; frustrated. And I’ve ridden really crap,” Dennis explained.

“And other times I’ve been (angry) but able to control it and vent it throughout a whole stage or a whole week. It’s worked in my favour but also against me sometimes. I think there’s a balance.”

Now 25 years old, in high school Dennis didn’t know how to express anger. He stockpiled it under lock and key. “It’s a tough one sometimes to talk about. In the end it was too much to control and it just exploded. It’s almost like putting Mentos into a Coke bottle,” Dennis said.

“I’ve had to learn how to let that anger out in ways without exploding but sort of venting it before it gets to the point of overflowing.”

For Dennis, racing on anger has cost him at least one bike race. He emptied the emotional wattage too early and completely. At crunch time he had nothing left.

Small matters can pester him. “I’m a little bit OCD. I like perfection with everything and when things don’t line up when they should or I think they should, it gets on my nerves a little bit,” he explained. “I think with age that’s going to slowly get easier to handle, but at the moment I’m not perfect.”

He’s become better at taming that frustration so it doesn’t rule his emotions while racing. The Swiss precision of the BMC Racing Team, which his countryman Richie Porte will soon experience moving in from Team Sky, may reduce frustration fuel.

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“The BMC Racing Team riders and staff receive detailed daily schedules at races and operate under the philosophy that ‘if you are not early, you are late,’" wrote team press officer Sean Weide via email.

Panini incident aside, Dennis said the wellspring of anger and frustration is more related to everyday life than the vagaries of the sport.

Stress ensuing from issues like illness or off-track training and hence concerns about his condition can ignite that short fuse.

“Little things crack me a little bit easier,” he admitted, “and I’m on edge because I’m worried about my own performance and I’m not backing myself, I’m not confident in my own ability to actually perform at the race.”

Apart from fiery moments, Dennis said he’s usually pretty happy. “It’s only when someone tries to get on my nerves that I actually get a little bit fired up. Generally I’ll let people take the piss out of me and I’ll give it back in good fun. But there are times when you need to be serious and times when you can have fun, that’s for sure.”

Ambitions overflow

For this man from Adelaide the path to greatness is lined with Olympic gold as well as men’s elite road worlds gold. “But also,” he added, “I wouldn’t say this is the be-all-end all, but I want to win a grand tour.”

Last year’s BMC team time trial world championship slotted into the highlights of his career, and Dennis is likely to be selected for the squad again for September’s UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia.

But another test there matters more to him: the individual race against the clock, one rainbow jersey he can’t count among the several hanging in his closet.

“I want to be world champion on the road, not just in a team event, but (through) my own personal effort,” he said.

He realised that wish notably in July with a Tour de France prologue win.

But even with the stellar results he carried into the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, before the race he mentioned his attention drifts mostly to what he hasn’t achieved. That begged this question posed near the end of the Colorado tour: What achievement did he need to feel satisfied with his cycling career?

If, he said, upon reaching age 35 he decides to hang up his wheels, “I’d probably be pretty happy with what I’ve done already, to be honest”. He ticked off a list of palmares: Tour de France yellow jersey, world champion on the track and road (in the team time trial), silver medal winner in the team pursuit at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

“Most people don’t get any of those results. But I want more. I think the problem as a human being is, we always want a little bit more.”

To reach those additional targets Dennis might fare well if he continues to see red occasionally. Cyrille Guimard, the directeur sportif who shepherded Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon and Lucien Van Impe to Tour de France titles, once said: “I’ve never met a nice, kind, soft man who’s succeeded in sport, whether it be in rugby or in football or in cycling.”