BMC’s Ro­han Den­nis wants to trans­form him­self from trackie and time trial spe­cial­ist to grand tour win­ner. He’s also been work­ing on smooth­ing off some of the rougher edges of a lively tem­per­a­ment. He tells Pro­cy­cling how the changes are go­ing

Procycling - - Contetns -

BMC’s Aus­tralian rider is at­tempt­ing to trans­form him­self into a grand tour con­tender. We ask how it’s go­ing

Aman who posts on Twit­ter that there’s “noth­ing bet­ter than start­ing your day with some Mal­colminthe

Mid­dle” doesn’t re­ally fit the pro­file of some­one who’s thought to be a bit prickly.

“I do try to have some fun on so­cial me­dia,” Ro­han Den­nis grins when Pro­cy­cling re­minds him of some of his pre­vi­ous posts on­line. “And I do get told that maybe it’s not very pro­fes­sional, but I get most ‘likes’ when I put stupid posts up of, for ex­am­ple, me be­ing an ab­so­lute dick­head in my bib­shorts, pulling a stupid face… And I do run it by the team, and ask, ‘Will it be a prob­lem if I post this?’ And they’re, like, ‘Err, you can if you re­ally want to…’ and I say, ‘Al­ri­i­i­ight! I do!’ and so I post it.”

As for Mal­colmintheMid­dle, the Amer­i­can sit­com about a boy ge­nius: “It’s a funny show and easy to watch. I love it. In July 2014 I watched every sin­gle episode - straight. I think it’s eight sea­sons. It was while I was go­ing through my mid-year trans­fer stuff be­tween Garmin and BMC, and the fun­ni­est part was that the theme song at the start goes, ‘You’re not the boss of me now…’ Every time I heard that first bar, I’d laugh. It’s what made me happy.”

So when Pro­cy­cling gin­gerly sug­gests that Den­nis has been de­scribed as “prickly”, we’re re­ally not sure how he’s go­ing to re­act. I n Au­gust 2016, when he was in the form of his life, Den­nis’s han­dle­bars broke at the Rio Olympics time trial, forc­ing him to change bikes, and likely cost­ing him a sil­ver medal. He ended up fifth.

In Septem­ber 2017, again in the form of his life, Den­nis crashed on the wet roads at the Bergen World Cham­pi­onships time trial, break­ing his rear de­railleur and forc­ing him to make a bike change. He fin­ished the race eighth.

“It’s hard to smile in those sit­u­a­tions,” Den­nis ad­mits, “but I had to – not be­cause I wanted to, but be­cause it was the best thing for me to do. You can’t dwell on it. But I’m still an­noyed about Rio. It’ll never go away un­less I win in Tokyo [2020 Olympic Games]. Peo­ple say, ‘Don’t worry, Ro­han – you’ll be even bet­ter in Tokyo.’ But who says I won’t get sick or in­jured, or even get picked? Maybe I won’t get to an­other Olympics. Maybe I won’t even be rid­ing in two years. Who knows what’ll hap­pen to­mor­row?

“Any­thing can hap­pen at any point, and it is frus­trat­ing; it is an­noy­ing. It’s al­ways been at the big events that some­thing out of our con­trol - or some­thing in our con­trol that we didn’t look over two or three times, didn’t dou­ble - or triple-check, just went boom at the worst pos­si­ble time.”

Hav­ing turned pro­fes­sional with Garmin in 2013, Den­nis con­tin­ued what had been win­ning ways on the track onto the road. The two-time team pur­suit world cham­pion and TP sil­ver medal­list at the 2012 Lon­don Olympics took a stage win and the over­all ti­tle at the Tour of Al­berta, as well as win­ning the young rider’s jer­sey at the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Den­nis started his first grand tour that year too: he was plunged into the mad­ness of France in July as a 23-year-old, be­fore be­ing pulled out af­ter the first week, al­beit a day ear­lier than planned, hav­ing been given a taste of le Tour.

The 2014 sea­son went even bet­ter: he took a stage win and sec­ond place over­all at the Am­gen Tour of Cal­i­for­nia, be­hind Bradley Wig­gins, and a sil­ver medal in the time trial at the Com­mon­wealth Games. In the mid­dle of it all came his highly pub­li­cised mid-sea­son trans­fer from Garmin to BMC, when he fol­lowed his friend, fel­low Aussie and for­mer Garmin DS Al­lan Peiper, to the new team.

Den­nis then rode the Vuelta a Es­paña with BMC, which saw him fin­ish 84th, be­fore win­ning the world cham­pi­onships TTT with them, and tak­ing fifth in the in­di­vid­ual event.

Den­nis has been with BMC ever since, tick­ing off an­other four grand tour starts and tak­ing big wins at the 2015 Tour Down Un­der and the USA Pro Cy­cling Chal­lenge. Most sig­nif­i­cant of all was his vic­tory on the open­ing stage of the Tour in 2015, which yielded a high pro­file day in the yel­low jer­sey. He then fol­lowed it with stage wins at the Eneco Tour, the Tour of Cal­i­for­nia and the Tour of Bri­tain in 2016.

Then, ahead of the 2017 sea­son, he an­nounced that he’d given him­self a ‘four-year plan’ to try to be com­pet­i­tive at grand tours.

"The theme song at the start goes, ' You're not the boss of me now...' Every time I heard that irst bar, I'd laugh. It's what made me happy"

Most rid­ers could end their ca­reers happy with hav­ing achieved a frac­tion of what Den­nis has won. And yet you get the im­pres­sion that his ca­reer may have only just be­gun: that his fo­cus on the grand tours is about to be all-con­sum­ing.

“Last year’s Giro didn’t go well, ob­vi­ously be­cause of my crash, and sub­se­quent con­cus­sion, so, phys­i­cally, it was best to leave,” Den­nis, now 27, says of leav­ing the race af­ter four days. “So then we said I would go to the Vuelta for Worlds prepa­ra­tion, as there was only a week in be­tween them.

“Usu­ally the Vuelta isn’t too… Well, it’s hard, but usu­ally there are guys there pre­par­ing for the Worlds. But this year every­one raced 100 per cent every day, like it was the Tour. We made the de­ci­sion that it would be best to leave af­ter the TT on stage 16. But I ac­tu­ally got sick on the rest day the day be­fore, so I was, like, ‘Well, some­thing is telling me I ought to go home and just re­cover.’

“Last sea­son didn’t go well for me at the Giro, and the way it was raced meant I didn’t fin­ish the Vuelta, ei­ther. I could have fin­ished, but it would have been detri­men­tal to my Worlds, and just to fin­ish isn’t re­ally a mas­sive ac­com­plish­ment. ‘Wow - you’ve fin­ished a grand tour.’ That isn’t the ac­tual goal for me.” P art of Den­nis’s on­go­ing me­ta­mor­pho­sis into a grand tour con­tender has been to slim down to im­prove his climb­ing, while still be­ing ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing against the clock. At the 2017 Aus­tralian na­tional cham­pi­onships, where he won the TT for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year, he claimed that he’d lost weight but re­tained the same power. This year, he de­fended his ti­tle again.

“It’s been a pretty slow process try­ing to find out where the limit is,” Den­nis says. “I’ve ac­tu­ally done even less in­ten­sity than I did last year be­fore the Na­tion­als.

"I've been around the mark in week- long races. Now it's about ap­ply­ing that over three weeks, which is a mas­sive chal­lenge"

Peo­ple said I looked a lot skin­nier again this year com­pared to last year, but my weight’s the same, so I’m not sure what’s go­ing on there. I might just have more mus­cle, but I seem to ac­tu­ally look smaller, so maybe I have less fat.”

He says that his abil­ity and ex­pe­ri­ence against the clock, cou­pled with his past as a track rider make him suited to the mod­ern-day ap­proach of ‘hit­ting the num­bers’.

“You know the num­bers you can hold and if you can do what you know you can do, and they’re bet­ter than any­one else, then you know that you should win. And that just suits guys who have a more struc­tured ap­proach,” he says. “On the track we’d get pulled out of the TP squad be­tween qual­i­fy­ing and the fi­nal if we al­tered the pace over a lap. With­out hav­ing a power me­ter and no read­ings other than ‘feel­ing’, we’d get pulled from the team for drop­ping the pace by .1 [of a sec­ond]. It was very ex­act. Even if you went too fast – just .1 or .2 faster – you could also be pulled from the team be­cause what you were do­ing was detri­men­tal to every­one else.”

And recre­at­ing that ex­act­ing dis­ci­pline on the road has proven to work, too – as long as you’ve got the right rid­ers, Den­nis says. But what about panache, Ro­han? Don’t you need pana…

“Panache was in the 1990s,” he shoots back, “and there were other things go­ing on in the ’90s as well, weren’t there? When you are at­tack­ing 20 or 30 times on a climb, and you don’t feel like it’s hurt­ing you, there’s a rea­son for that. If you want to have that ex­cite­ment that you did in the ’90s, then I’m sure there are YouTube videos!”

In­stead, Den­nis has suc­cess­fully been ap­ply­ing his track-de­vel­oped ap­proach to the road in week-long stage races, and it’s a case of ‘watch this space’ in the longer events.

“A lot more can go wrong,” he ad­mits. “The third week of a tour is com­pletely dif­fer­ent to the first or sec­ond week. In one-week stage races a lot of guys can do well: they can suf­fer for a week and it’s a lit­tle more com­pressed - a high in­ten­sity sort of thing. In a grand tour it is more about get­ting your head round the fact that the job is not done af­ter one week. I haven’t got my head around that yet. It is some­thing that we still have to work on,” he con­tin­ues. “Yep - I’ve been up around the mark in plenty of week-long races; now it’s just a mat­ter of ap­ply­ing that over three weeks, which is a mas­sive chal­lenge. So that’s prob­a­bly why we’re sort of look­ing at it and go­ing, ‘Okay, let’s try to get through 10-14 days and then what­ever hap­pens in that last week or week-and-a-half – let’s use that as a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.’

“If it keeps go­ing well, day by day, just take it: Day. By. Day,” he says, punch­ing out the last three words in a slow mantra. “If I blow up, then we look at what we did wrong. Where do we go from here? What do we need to change?”

His use of ‘we’, rather than ‘I’, re­veals the level of help he has around him at BMC. And that in­cludes a sports psy­chol­o­gist. “I’ve had one now for... Well, I’ve had many,” he smiles. “But usu­ally for other rea­sons…

Wri ter: E l l is Ba­con Por t rai t Pho­tog­ra­phy: Chr is Auld

Run­ner-up Den­nis sprays cham­pagne on 2014 Tour of Cal­i­for­nia win­ner Bradley Wig­gins

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