Stage One of this year’s Tour looked tailor made for Tony Martin (Germany & QuickStep); or just maybe rising Giant home boy chronostar Tom Dumoulin? – but a name which kept appearing in the Australian press as Le Tour loomed large was that of BMC’s 25 year-old South Australian rider, Rohan Dennis.
Dennis was happy to admit he’d been prepping specifically for the stage and that he was, ‘feeling great’ about a parcours which played to his strengths.
Martin struggled in the heat of Utrecht – not an issue for Adelaide boy Dennis – and the distance was too short for the German’s ‘big diesel’ capability.
Dumoulin fell short whilst Cancellara proved there’s life in the old … I can hardly bear to say it … “Gladiator,” yet.
But it was the young Australian who we watched fall apart in the closing kilometres of the Commonwealth Games TT in Glasgow, last year against Alex Dowsett who got to smile widest.
Dennis was originally a swimmer until The South Australian Sports Institute visited his school and tested him on their Talent Identification Programme when he was just 15 years old.
Initially he was training for the bike incognito so as his swimming coach wouldn’t find out – but an unsuccessful trip to the Australian age-related swimming champs convinced him to change course and he turned to the bike.
He won the 2006 Australian Novices TT Championship and the following year he was in the team – along with Jack Bobridge – which won the Australian Junior Team Pursuit Championship.
Within a year he was a World Junior Champion in the discipline, taking the Australian Junior Points and Pursuit Championships along the way.
By 2009 he was fast enough to make the senior Aussie team pursuit squad and rode with them to silver at the Worlds.
Silver became gold for 2010 and he took the Australian U23 Time Trial for Team Jayco to boot as well as the Tour of Geelong.
With Rabobank Continental for 2011 he defended his rainbow jersey but was back with Jayco for 2012.
This was the year when he really began to get noticed, taking the Aussie U23 road and TT champs, silvers in the Worlds and Olympic team pursuit championships and the GC in the U23 Thuringen Rundfahrt.
And his London Olympics team pursuit silver marked the end of his track days as he pledged 100% allegiance to the road.
Garmin signed him for 2013 and there was a silver in the Australian Elite TT champs and a stage and GC win in the Tour of Alberta – an auspicious World Tour debut.
He started the Tour that year but didn’t finish.
Last season began with Garmin but ended with BMC and a World Team Time Trial title in Ponferrada with his new squadra.
Prior to the Worlds he finished his first Grand Tour – the Vuelta, always a landmark in any rider’s career.
And those watching for ‘signs’ would have spotted his fifth spot in the Worlds TT, up from 12th in 2013.
This year has been ‘super’ with a stage and GC win in the Tour Down Under, a successful hour record bid, a spell in yellow in the Dauphine and now the seventh Aussie to pull on a maillot jaune.
Dennis covered the 13.8 kilometres in Utrecht at 55.45 kph, besting David Zabriskie’s 54.676 kph for the 19.0 kilometre TT in the 2005 Tour and even the 55.152 kph by Chris Boardman in the 1994 Tour prologue in Lille over 7.2 K to post the fastest ever Tour individual chrono.
In case you’re not good at arithmetic his speed in mph is around 34.6.
Sadly – but not for Cancellara – Dennis could only ride his yellow BMC road machine for one day – but he could yet stand atop the podium again come the Stage Nine TTT.