Rohan Dennis Q&A: Recalibrating objectives after career-defining season
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colorado (VN) — Imagine creating a list of long-range goals for yourself. Then, imagine accomplishing them all, in the span of six months — at the age of 25.
That’s a bit what the 2015 season has been like for Australian Rohan Dennis. The BMC Racing rider has achieved several results this season that would, for many, be classified as career-defining. An overall victory on home soil at the Santos Tour Down Under in January was quickly followed by a brief stint as the world hour record holder. But that was all quickly overshadowed by a time-trial stage victory at the Tour de France, and a day in the maillot jaune.
Since transferring from Garmin-Sharp to BMC Racing during the middle of the 2014 season — just after his second-place GC finish at the Amgen Tour of California, behind Bradley Wiggins — Dennis has gone on to excel in time trials.
Last year, Dennis was a member of BMC’s world championship team time trial squad; a few days later he finished fifth in the ITT at worlds. He also wore the leader’s jersey at the Criterium Dauphine, in June, on the strength of BMC’s team time trial victory, before standing on the Tour podium twice, once in Utrecht, and again in Plumelec after the stage 9 team time trial.
Dennis is now in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, at the USA Pro Challenge, where his Tour de France result has made him one of the biggest stars of this year’s race. VeloNews spoke with him on Saturday, two days before the race began, about his amazing season, his long-term goals, and the news that fellow Aussie Richie Porte (Sky) will join the team next year.
And though he’s won a stage race in North America before — the 2013 Tour of Alberta — he is quick to downplay his chances as a GC rider, citing his lack of acclimation to the high altitude, and the current form of his teammate, Brent Bookwalter, who recently finished third overall at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.
VeloNews: When you think about the 2015 season, how do reconcile so many career-best results in such a short period of time?
Rohan Dennis: To be honest, it doesn’t, for me, sound like I’ve achieved huge amounts, compared to some other riders, as silly as that might sound. It really hit home when I was talking to [BMC Racing Sporting Manager] Allan Peiper, in Paris, at our BMC party. He said that ‘what you’ve achieved, since you joined the team — world title, fifth at worlds, Tour Down Under, hour record, yellow jersey at the Dauphine, and two stage wins at the Tour de France — most people would be happy with that in a whole career.’ It hit home when he said that. He said it’s not so much about having it all in one hit. If you can keep it consistent, and spread it out, it’s probably better than a two-month, big block of results, and then off the radar for the rest of the year. That hit home, when I look at it like that, and it made me realize I actually have achieved something this year, rather than just floating around the peloton and getting dropped most days, and just doing the team job. It’s been bigger than that, when you look at it from the outside.
VN: How do you recalibrate your goals, when you’ve accomplished everything you set out to do? Whether it’s for next year, or your career in general, where do you go from here?
RD: To be honest, I’ve spoken with the team, and my ambitions are to head down a GC route. But, after Romandie, I took a back step on the GC and said, look, Rio is a big, big goal of mine, as well as worlds in Richmond, and realistically, the time trial for both, it’s possible to medal, or win, one of them, or both. I want to go 100 percent for time trials until end of Rio, there’s obviously a few big ones. There’s worlds, there’s nationals — I’ve never won a senior title on the road, so I want to go to Ballarat [Australian nationals] and win that. And then there’s Rio. And after that, it’s about changing my body towards more of a GC rider. Being a year older, hopefully my power won’t drop too much when I drop the weight, and my time trialing won’t be affected as much.
VN: So, ultimately, you’re talking about becoming a GC rider for grand tours, then?
RD: Grand tours are the long-term goal. I’d like to be around the mix before the Tokyo Olympics, after Rio. That’s the longer-term goal.
VN: You come to Colorado after such a successful season. You’ve been here for one week, which offers a bit of acclimatization, but not the full immersion some riders have had. What’s your objective here?
RD: To be able to breathe [laughs]. That’s a big objective. It’s still affecting me a fair bit. My heart rate is 10, 20 beats higher sometimes at certain power. Obviously my goals for GC here aren’t huge. I’m looking for either a stage, especially the time trial. Maybe, if the opportunity is right, I’ll go up the road, and maybe get a road stage, or get the opportunity to even be in that position. Other than that, it’s just preparing for Richmond. After this, I stay in the U.S. for altitude training, and specific stuff for the worlds. Hopefully I’m picked [laughs]. The team time trial is a big objective for our team; we have to make sure we’re not a one-hit wonder. To come back firing and win that again is a big team objective. So at this stage, I won’t be leaving North America until after Richmond.
VN: You say that you’re not here for GC … the team came with Damiano Caruso, who is a strong GC rider, but has had a full season, finishing in the top 10 of the Giro d’Italia before riding the Tour de France in support of Tejay van Garderen. Who do you see as the GC contenders of this race?
RD: To be honest, I’m kind of winging it. I haven’t even looked at the start list. I think Caruso, he’s sort of in the same boat as me, not knowing how he’s going to react to this altitude. At sea level, a top 10 at the Giro is a big achievement. The climbs there are harder, but they’re not at altitude so much. We saw Brent, at Utah, was our strongest rider. There were two guys there that beat him, who aren’t here in Colorado. That’s a big boost of confidence we can have in him. And he can time trial. He’s been on the TT bike a fair bit this week. I think he’s pretty motivated to see how he can do here, after Utah, and Caruso is sort of floating, to see how he feels. I think both he and I will know after the first stage.
VN: Will you race the Montreal and Quebec one-day WorldTour events?
RD: At the moment, from memory, I’m a reserve rider for those races. I did speak to the team, and said maybe it’s a good hit-out, just to get that intensity before worlds, but you have to fly there, and fly back, it’s a bit of juggling around, and I think a few guys would be going there to actually target the race, and not just flit around and use the race as preparation.
VN: As an Australian, you and Richie Porte have a relationship. As a member of BMC Racing, you and Tejay van Garderen have a relationship. What are your thoughts on Porte coming to the team next year?
RD: To be honest, I get along as well with one as the other. I’m not sure what the team’s goals are, but in my eyes, if we’ve got two bullets to fire at the Tour de France, which is the big question — I don’t think that’s a bad idea. That’s not a bad thing at all. I’m sure the team would’ve been pretty happy if we had another bullet to fire after stage 17 this year. Obviously that’s just the way things work out. Sometimes you put all of your eggs into one basket. Richie being on the team is going to be a huge benefit. He’s ridden with Froome, and Wiggins, for three Tour de France titles, and his results this year speak a lot about his advances as a GC rider as well.
VN: It could make for an interesting day in Ballarat (at Australian road nationals) as well, eh?
RD: Yeah. [Laughs] I have spoken with him about that. Hopefully we’ll have more firepower against Orica-GreenEdge, instead of us working against each other. Next year we’ll have three Australians, with Campbell Flakemore still in the team. By not having Richie on the other side, that’s one less rider to work against. Hopefully we can take that title with one of the three of us.