• Rohan Dennis. (Getty)Source: Getty
Rohan Dennis will test his advancing mettle as a Grand Tour challenger at the Giro d’Italia, which starts Friday with a time trial that may land him the first pink jersey of the race.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
3 May 2018 - 5:09 PM  UPDATED 3 May 2018 - 5:10 PM

BMC has all season listed Dennis as its primary leader for the May 4-27 competition, with Irishman Nicolas Roche in February purporting himself as a “Plan B”.

Despite this, the 27-year-old Dennis was curiously unsure of his standing within the internal hierarchy as he spoke to Cycling Central days out from what will be a historic start in Jerusalem, Israel.

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“Technically I’m not the leader here,” he said. “In December, I was asked if I wanted to set my goals here as time trials or GC and I believed they went hand-in-hand. But then I didn’t know Nico was coming here for GC until around [March].

"After that, I thought Nico was the GC guy, like Tejay [van Garderen] was last year at the Giro, and I’m a back-up trying to find my feet still. I’m not actually sure to honest.”

In any case, the Australian national time trial champion has extensively prepared for the 101st edition and what could prove to be a defining transitional point in his career.

“I’ve prepared as if this is my big goal for the season, first half of the season anyway,” he said.

Behind the scenes, the former Hour Record holder and BMC staff have been working on steady, concerted shifts in training and racing to emulate a trajectory not dissimilar to that of 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins.

Dennis has time trialling nailed and if not stage victories, should make inroads on his Giro competition in the two that feature in this edition, as has been the case throughout the season to date.

“I’m hoping a couple of minutes will be in my favour throughout these time trials,” he said.

However, the Tour de France stage winner has worked extensively on climbing, specifically the ability to hold with the best late in the piece.

“It wasn’t so much the climbing early on in the stage, it was more so the stuff after four or five hours I was struggling with, physically trying to be able to hold that sort of power the guys are holding at the pointy end of the race,” he said.

Dennis with weighty work to do after Abu Dhabi
Rohan Dennis had two words atop Jebel Hafeet at the end of the Abu Dhabi Tour yesterday. “That hurt,” he said as he recovered past the finish line erected on the 10.8km ascent, which decided the race Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) claimed from the Australian on the last day.

This has manifested in competition if not as advances then determination, pacing in places where he previously might have just dropped off.

“In the end, a climb is a climb, you’re going uphill and if it gets a little bit too hard you try not to think about it too much. You try to get up that climb as quickly as possible, no matter how ugly you may look,” he said.

It’s a pragmatic approach for Dennis, whose nerve in road cycling was first characterised as a young gun that dared challenge an elite field, moving off the front at the Tour Down Under to the ire of patron Bernhard Eisel who barked, “Don’t even try it”.

It’s time now though for Dennis to do exactly that – try it.

“The Giro d’Italia we’re going to take in steps,” BMC sports director Max Sciandri said.

“Going into a Grand Tour, he’s going to have to get used to adaptation fast. There is always something happening in a Grand Tour, change of situation, change of scenario, weather, bike problems.

“He’s a great pro. He’s a unique guy, and we know he has a way of letting the pressure out differently than everybody. He’s maturing and hopefully, it will be a good year for him.”

Defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Chris Froome (Sky) will be among those fighting for the Giro title this season, though going in the field appears on even footing.

“It’s been a quiet run-in for the Giro, for GC guys, I almost actually forget who is coming,” Dennis said.

“The thought of a result I have to put behind me and just try to figure out really what I need to improve on to get closer to that top step, or even enter the top 10.”

Dennis’s Giro will start with a 9.7km time trial that by popular consensus is technical and hilly enough to be within his remit but exclude pure power specialists.

“I think it’s going to be punchier and maybe even a good test to see who has got that explosiveness out of the GC guys as well,” he said.

“It will be good for me. Any time trial is going to be something I’ll go for, and have a chance of winning.”

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