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UTRECHT, The Netherlands (CT) – When the 2015 Tour de France gets underway with tomorrow’s 13.8km individual time trial, Australia’s Rohan Dennis (BMC) will be among the favourites to claim the stage victory and with it, the first yellow jersey of the race.
The South Australian former track rider has long been aiming for a good result in stage 1 of this year’s Tour — the only individual time trial of the race.
“This whole season I’ve prepared for this time trial,” Dennis said at a BMC press conference the day before the Tour de France. “Every time trial I’ve gone into this year, whether I’m tired or fresh, I’ve gone 100%, just to learn more about my body. Things have come along really well.”
Twenty-five-year-old Dennis took the biggest win of his career earlier this year when he took out the Santos Tour Down Under off the back of a thrilling stage 3 victory on the uphill finish to Paracombe. But when it comes to Dennis’ strongest discipline, the individual time trial, his career has so far been defined by a series of increasingly frustrating near-misses.
In 2014 he was second in ITTs at the Criterium Internationale, the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe, the Tour de Romandie, the Tour of California and at the Commonwealth Games. And in 2015 he’s been second in time trials at the Australian road nationals, Paris-Nice and the Belgium Tour.
To make it to the top step tomorrow he’ll have to account for a handful of impressive rivals including: three-time world time trial champion Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step); Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) who will have the benefit of passionate local support; four-time world ITT champion and winner of the 2010 Tour de France prologue in Rotterdam, Fabian Cancellara (Trek); and former world hour record holder Alex Dowsett (Movistar).
Having ridden the stage 1 course twice and seen it on video, Dennis believes it will provide a level playing field for the big contenders.
“It’s not super long and it’s not short and technical so we won’t have any surprises of someone who takes risks around corners and for some reason they’re not a time-trial specialist but they won the stage,” Dennis said. “It’s pretty quick and free-flowing, there’s a few corners. I think the strongest and most powerful guy on the day is going to win.”
After Saturday’s individual time trial Rohan Dennis will turn his attention to ushering Tejay van Garderen through a challenging first week. Dennis will then aim to play a crucial role in the team time trial on stage 9.
With BMC having won the Criterium du Dauphine team time trial last month, many are predicting a repeat performance at Le Tour, allowing van Garderen to get an early advantage over his rivals.
“[In the] Dauphine team time trial I felt really strong,” Dennis said. “Since then all I’ve been doing is preparing for stage 1 and stage 9 [of the Tour]. The team time trial should help us gain some time GC-wise, leading into the mountains.”
With the race’s two time trials complete, Dennis will again take up a support role for his American team leader when the race enters its second week. Having improved his climbing considerably in the past 12 months — as evidenced by strong performances on the short climbs of the Tour Down Under in January — Dennis will be hoping to be there to support van Garderen when the road tilts up.
“That’ll be my main goal as soon as soon as the team time trial is over, is to switch to a climber’s role and hopefully be there when it’s crunch time,” Dennis said. “Not just get dropped or help into the bottom of the climb, but help on the climb as well.”
The team goes into this year’s Tour de France with a clear goal: to upgrade Tejay van Garderen’s fifth place in 2014 to a place on the podium in 2015. Van Garderen himself, who is coming off two second places and second overall at the Dauphine, believes he’s in career-best form and that a podium place is well within reach.
“I feel the best I’ve ever felt and I’m confident of a strong result in Paris,” said a seemingly-leaner-than-ever van Garderen. “But I wouldn’t be able to do that without the help of all these guys.”
Van Garderen will rely on proven Classics performers Greg Van Avermaet, Manuel Quinziato, Michael Schar and Daniel Oss to guide him through the challenging first week, including the cobblestones of stage 4. From there van Garderen will count on consistency to keep him in contention with the ‘Big Four’ — Alberto Contador, Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali.
“The Tour’s not won in the first week or the second week; it’s going to be won maybe on Alpe d’Huez [ed. on the penultimate stage],” van Garderen said. “The key is consistency and I think that’s one of my strong suits so if I can just stay strong throughout then by the end I think I have a good shot.”
Before all that though, the riders must get through tomorrow’s stage 1 ITT in Utrecht. For Rohan Dennis, it’s a chance to convert all of those second places into a long-awaited time trial victory.
“Eventually, one day, that first will come and it will be the happiest day of my life as a cyclist.”