Rohan Dennis is a joker. Rarely seen without a smile on his face, the 27-year-old South Australian is always trying to provoke a laugh. Even when it is at his own expense.
“I was going really well heading into the road worlds last year,” he begins. “I knew I was in good shape. A mate back home wished me luck, and I joked ‘well, knowing me, something will go wrong.’”
Go wrong it did. Dennis slipped out in the wet during the individual time trial in Norway, ultimately finishing eighth despite clocking the second fastest time at an intermediate point pre-crash.
It was not the first occasion misfortune has robbed Dennis of time trial success. He was on track for an Olympic medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 when a broken aero bar forced a bike change, while a puncture during the 2015 road worlds also prevented a likely podium finish.
“I was interviewed on the finish line [at the 2017 worlds] and they said ‘you don’t seem too angry,’ recalls Dennis. “I thought: ‘well, there’s nothing I can do.’”
Having endured the trifecta, Dennis is hoping fortune might now smile on him as he continues transitioning from time trial specialist to general classification contender.
“I have done all three: punctured, crashed and broke my bike,” he continues. “So what else can go wrong? It is just about resetting, accepting what has happened and hoping next time it doesn’t. If you keep knocking on the door, one day it will open.”
Despite the unfortunate end to 2017, Dennis was otherwise happy with his most recent campaign. He won Tour La Provence, finished second at Tirreno-Adriatico, secured an impressive stage win during the Tour of the Alps and topped both individual time trial podiums at the Tour de Suisse.
“There are positives even out of the bad things,” muses Dennis. “I knew my preparation for the Giro was good [he crashed out on stage four]. Everything was going really well at Worlds, before and after the crash. Other than those, I was pretty happy with 2017.
“The transition towards general classification is going in the right direction, and my time trial hasn’t been impacted – I am actually time trialling better at the moment,” he says, not long after winning his third consecutive national time trial crown. “Hopefully some luck comes my way as well.”
After riding a team role during the Australian summer, Dennis begins his general classification campaign at the Abu Dhabi Tour this week. He is then set to race Tirreno-Adriatico, Volta a Catalunya and the Tour de Romandie, before heading to Israel for the beginning of the first Grand Tour of 2018.
“I am targeting the Giro d’Italia,” Dennis admits. “It is a big goal of mine, to try and make it through at least two weeks and see where it goes from there.”
His plans for the remainder of the year are dependent on his post-Giro shape. “The team is looking towards the team time trial at the Tour de France and me being there for that,” he says. “But it all depends on where I am at mentally and physical after – hopefully – finishing the Giro.”
If Dennis does find himself on the Tour de France start-line, he will add another string to the bow of Richie Porte as the Tasmanian aims for the hallowed yellow jersey. BMC also signed Simon Gerrans to the roster in 2018, with a view to the veteran riding as Porte’s road captain during the Tour. Alongside past national champion Miles Scotson, sports manager Allan Peiper and media manager Phoebe Haymes, BMC has quite the Aussie contingent.
“It is nice to have other Australians around,” Dennis explains. “But you don’t actually notice it too much. We don’t live together, we have different race schedules. It is not like we have a little clan of Aussies rolling around together.”
Dennis is pleased, though, that Gerrans has joined the team. The former Mitchelton-Scott rider was until recently his neighbour. “I swear Simon didn’t move house because of me,” he jokes.
Dennis’s demeanour becomes more serious when the topic changes to Chris Froome. The Team Sky star will be a key rival at the Giro d’Italia and stand in the way of Porte at the Tour, unless Froome is suspended as a result of the doping cloud that lingers over him following an Adverse Analytical Finding.
“It does not affect us at all,” says Dennis when asked about the controversy. “Well, if he gets a suspension, it opens the Tour de France up a lot. But they still have G [Geraint Thomas] – an exceptional rider.
“But to be honest, no matter what I say, if it is for Froome or against Froome, it is only going to end badly for me,” he continues. “People don’t look into what you are really trying to say, so it is not worth me trying to comment about it.”
The familiar smile returns when the topic changes to track cycling. Dennis was a two-time team pursuit world champion and Olympic silver medallist on the track, before switching to the road in 2013.
“I miss the excitement,” he says. “I really enjoy watching the Track Worlds and the Olympics. I get that tingling feeling – even just talking about it now! I miss it.
“The only thing close to track racing is team time trial, but even that is nowhere near a team pursuit,” he continues. “It is so intense, so short, high pressure. Four minutes as hard as you can to get across that line together – there is nothing more exciting than that.”
While Dennis does not miss the track training – “constantly going around in circles over and over again” – he admits that another attempt at the world hour record, which he held for three months in 2015, could be on the cards.
“Maybe even twice,” says Dennis emphatically. “I would like to try beating it at sea level, that is the first goal, and then I want to go to altitude and make sure the record is out of reach. It is not easy, far from it, but it is doable.”
For now, though, Dennis’s ambitions at the velodrome will have to wait. This is a man who wants it all – time trial success, general classification glory and the iconic hour record – and he admits the latter is not a top priority.
“I have other things I want to do first,” he says.