Dennis powered through the 12.6km course in 14 minutes and 21 seconds to best Jonathan Castroviejo (Sky) and teammates Miles Scotson to line honours.
Time trial world champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) was the fastest at the first intermediate time check but suffered a mechanical and was forced to settle for 10th in what was a hot and blustery day.
“The wind was the biggest challenge today,” Dennis said. “It was never straightforward – tailwind, headwind or crosswind. It was quite gusty and you couldn’t really pace it directly off of the mark.”
The 27-year-old wasn’t scheduled to compete at Abu Dhabi at the beginning of the year, but was called when his team saw an opportunity with the addition of a time trial to the race.
“We’ll be putting everything we possibly can into keeping this red jersey. It will be great for me to win the overall and a good little start to racing outside of Australia,” he said yesterday.
Dennis is a known time trial specialist but since the 2016 Rio Olympic Games has turned his focus toward three-week stage racing and will lead BMC at the Giro d’Italia this season along with Irishman Nicolas Roche.
The Australian is confident about the transition that defending Giro champion Dumoulin has done successfully.
“Everything he has done is a confidence boost in what is possible for me,” Dennis said.
“We’re quite similar riders and it shows me if … I get everything right, a Grand Tour is possible,” Dennis said.
“You can see what he did in the Giro, he had some bad luck in the last week but also lost a teammate with Wilco [Kelderman] early on. So, it’s not always about the legs, it’s also about the head and keeping that on, not letting that fall off when things are against you.”
The Abu Dhabi Tour concludes tomorrow with the Jebel Hafeet climb, which will decide the five-stage race.
Dennis identified Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Dumoulin as primary threats to his campaign.
Valverde currently sits eighth overall, 24 seconds in arrears of the national time trial champion, with Dumoulin ninth at 31 seconds.
“I think Valverde is the most threatening rider. From what I saw, obviously Dumoulin is right up there, but from what I saw in the crosswinds on stage two he looked quite strong and that was on the flat. If he is looking strong on the flats, I think he will be quite dangerous on the climbs,” Dennis said.
“It’s a good way to see where I’m at when it comes to climbing. I think tomorrow is going to be about pure power, it’s not going to be super technical.”