• Leader one day, gone the next. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
In sport, as in life, logic suggests that if you work hard enough, and you're persistent, you'll get there. Though sometimes, no matter how much you try or how badly you want it, you don't always make it, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
26 Feb 2018 - 4:06 PM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2018 - 4:45 PM

At 27, Rohan Dennis is hoping to follow in the footsteps of former time trial specialists turned GC riders Bradley Wiggins and Tom Dumoulin. Yet to date, his career most closely resembles that of compatriot Michael Rogers at the same age.

Riding for T-Mobile in 2006, Rogers, aged 26, delivered what he and many others felt was a breakthrough performance at that year's Tour de France, finishing in 10th place overall, behind the since-rescinded result of American Floyd Landis.

At the time, perhaps what was overlooked (other than Landis's proclivity towards doping) was that Rogers, who like Dennis began his career as a team pursuit specialist at the Australian Institute of Sport, finished over 15 minutes behind the faux winner. The largely false optimism saw him spend the next four years trying in vain to turn himself into a Grand Tour contender, which never really eventuated. The closest he came was sixth place overall at the 2009 Giro d'Italia - equating to 10 minutes short of eventual maglia rosa Denis Menchov.

What if one extrapolates these five days in the Middle East to 21 days in Italy and molto, molto montagne?

The demise of Team HTC-Columbia also coincided with Rogers admitting his physiology, no matter how hard he tried, was simply not cut out for Grand Tour leadership. He conceded he was better off helping someone who could win a three-week race rather than killing himself in attempt to make another top 10; it led to his 2011 appointment at Team Sky as a road captain and super domestique, and later Saxo-Tinkoff till his retirement in April 2016, where he excelled.

If we consider where Dennis is at right now, he doesn't appear to be much further down the Grand Tour track than he was two years ago. Now in his seventh year as a professional, his best GC performances remain the Tour Down Under and USA Pro Challenge, both won in 2015. There's also his second overall at last year's Tirreno-Adriatico, won by Nairo Quintana.

As far as Grand Tour performances go, four out of the six contested have resulted in DNFs. The two completed saw him finish 84th at the 2014 Vuelta a España and 101st at the 2015 Tour.

The year Wiggins decided to ride for GC in a three-week event, he finished fourth overall at the 2009 Tour, aged 29. Two years later he won the Critérium du Dauphiné, then the year following, won it again as well as Paris-Nice and the Tour de Romandie en route to becoming the first British winner of La Grande Boucle. So maybe like Wiggo, Dennis is a late bloomer.

Though just for a moment, contrast where Rohan is positioned alongside Dumoulin.

Both 27 years of age. Both seventh year pros. Both TT specialists and both wanting to be more than that.

The difference is, of course, that the Dutchman is already there.

While Dumoulin did not display the great promise of Quintana or Esteban Chaves as an Under-23, finishing 16th at the Tour de l'Avenir before turning pro for Argos-Shimano in 2012, his adaptation to the senior ranks proved otherwise.

As a neo-pro, he was second in the young riders' classification at the Tour of Luxembourg and Vuelta a Burgos, both 2.HC ranked events. The next season, he finished fifth in the youth classification at his first Tour de France and 41st overall. And steady progression ever since, with a near-win at the 2015 Vuelta followed by a career-defining victory at last year's Giro.

Demonstrated at the 2017 Giro, and unlike Wiggins or Miguel Induráin before him, he does not just sit in on mountain stages in an attempt to contain his losses and bank everything on the time trials. 'The butterfly of Maastricht' has shown himself capable of attacking, not just reacting, when the road veers upwards - something Dennis has so far failed to do; perhaps the sole exception being the Paracombe stage at the 2015 TDU.

A long way, and a whole lot different, to the monolithic mountains he'll encounter at this year's Giro, I'm sure you'll agree.

"I'm not completely behind the eight ball. I am within the range I need to be in February. I said before this race would be a good test to see what I need to work on and where I need to go from here until May. We've got a few things to work on," he told reporters after relinquishing the lead on the final day at the Abu Dhabi Tour.

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.

One minute and 30 seconds - equivalent to ninth place - behind the winning time of Movistar's Alejandro Valverde may not sound too bad but what if one extrapolates these five days in the Middle East to 21 days in Italy and molto, molto montagne? Just as Dennis hopes to improve, so too those he'll face off against on May 4 in Jerusalem; it's all relative, cuz.

From the Rio Games, the South Australian has said he's given himself four years to try and become a GC contender. "In my head, GC is what I want to do. If I can't see the light after four years, then I'll go back to what I know I'm one of the best in the world at doing," he told Cyclingnews in March last year. Then, he admitted his "biggest issue is climbing" - which said was "a massive balancing game". One year later, following the Abu Dhabi race, not much has changed: "Climbing (well) is the main thing. (My) time trialling is going really well at the moment. I probably need to lose some weight off my arse and somehow keep that power as well."

Dennis and BMC Racing have invested a huge amount of time, effort and money into this four-year experiment, as they've done with compatriot and team-mate Richie Porte's ambitions of one day winning the Tour.

I'm not sure if we're any closer to discovering if either is going to make it or flake it, though clearly the latter's our current best prospect. Nonetheless, it'll be interesting to watch.