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UTRECHT, The Netherlands (CT) – Rohan Dennis may have had to settle for a string of second places in his recent career but former world time trial champion Tony Martin said that he started the opening stage of the Tour de France convinced that the Australian rider was a big threat for the win.
Dennis, who briefly held the world hour record earlier this year before it was taken from him by Alex Dowsett, used his time trial ability and the high speed honed from years of track racing to clock up the fastest-ever Tour de France time trial.
The BMC Racing Team rider averaged 55.446 kilometres per hour over the 13.8 kilometre course in Utrecht, beating Martin by five seconds and another former world champion Fabian Cancellara (Trek) by six.
While others were more highly tipped beforehand, Martin said he always had the Australian on his danger list.
“He was always on my mind,” Martin told a huddle of print, radio and TV journalists close to the finish line in Utrecht. “Everyone was speaking about Dumoulin, Cancellara, but I always had him on my mind. Over 14 kilometres, there are a lot of guys who can do a really, really good job if they have a great day.”
That’s precisely what Dennis did, scorching around the course and setting a time that would withstand all of the top names that followed.
Martin went close and said he regretted not being able to do better. “I was very, very disappointed. I didn’t expect it but in the second half I was really tired because of the heat,” he explained. “I think in more cold conditions I can do a good job. But okay, it is the Tour de France, it is July and I have to deal with it.”
The temperatures have been almost 40 degrees in recent days and many of the riders used ice vests until right before their time trials began.
This was a bid to combat the temperatures but, as Martin states, the heat was still a complication.
He also suggested the nature of the course gave him a lot to do. He pedals a large gear and likely had to do more work in regaining momentum after the bends.
“The longer it is, the longer I can play my power and not go so early on the limit like I had to go here,” he said. “Right from the start you had to sprint out of every corner.
“It is a distance where I have a good chance, but the longer the time trial is, the better I can perform.”
He will start Sunday’s second stage with that small time gap to Dennis, but knows his chances of taking yellow are very slim. He is on the same Etixx-Quick-Step team as Mark Cavendish and the squad is likely to pull together in its entirety on Sunday’s second stage, helping to set things up for an expected bunch finish.
Losing out on the Maillot Jaune will be a factor in his disappointment. So too the fact that there is no more individual time trials in this year’s race, thus limiting his ambitions against the clock to the team time trial.
Aiming to win an individual stage will necessitate going on the attack, as he did on last year’s ninth leg of the Tour. He was off the front for a total of 155 kilometres, and attacked the breakaway 60 kilometres from the finish to begin a long and successful solo run to the line.