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Dennis finds his climbing legs in Switzerland

Australian highlights GC credentials with second place behind Egan Bernal in the Tour de Suisse

Just days after completing the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, Rohan Dennis embarked on a new challenge.

The Australian’s time trial ability was never in doubt. He’s won time trials -and consequently worn the leader’s jersey- across all three grand tours, held the world hour record, and, last year, claimed the world time trial title.

Yet, after finishing fifth in the Olympic time trial, 2016 marked a new start line for Dennis. The promising talent wanted to take a stab at grand tours. After all, his ability against the clock made him a natural candidate for GC potential.

Last year, he fought to 16th at the Giro d’Italia, his best result in eight grand tour starts. That’s promising, but not nearly good enough yet to be considered a grand tour contender.

So his second place overall behind Tour de France favorite Egan Bernal (Ineos) in the Tour de Suisse was a surprise even to him.

“I’m not sure why I have the good form I had here, it just happened,” Dennis said. “Sometimes you cannot put your finger on why you’re going so well. I will go to the Tour now hunting for stages hopefully.”

It was no surprise that Dennis won the opening time trial and took the first leader’s jersey to open the Swiss tour last week. What was surprising is that he emerged as Bernal’s most dangerous rival as the race turned into the mountains.

Dennis finished just 19 seconds off overall victory and was hanging with Bernal over some of the highest climbs in Europe. Dennis, who admits he struggles on the highest and longest climbs in cycling, was pleasantly surprised with his legs.

“I can’t be unhappy with it,” Dennis said after Sunday’s final stage. “I came here thinking about the time trials and [to] see how the road race goes. Coming away with second overall, and feeling as good as I did today, I can be happy.”

Second at the Swiss tour was Dennis’ best WorldTour stage race result since winning the Santos Tour Down Under in 2015.

The strong result bodes well for Dennis as he heads into his fourth Tour start, and his first since 2016. Teammate Vincenzo Nibali will be Bahrain-Merida’s leader, and Dennis realizes that a good showing at the Swiss warm-up doesn’t automatically guarantee success in the Tour.

“Next is the Tour de France,” he said. “Of course I got second here behind Egan, but at the Tour, there are still some other guys. The Tour de France is another level.”

Dennis said he’ll be targeting a stage win, with the 27km time trial on stage 13 the obvious choice. His recent strong showing in the mountains could mean he could be a factor in other stages as well.

Though the Tour is on his horizon, another Olympic Games also looms. Tokyo presents Dennis with another chance to try to win the Olympic gold medal (he was just 8-seconds off the podium in 2016), so his grand tour dreams might be put on hold next summer.

Yet strong climbing last week at the Swiss tour might help convince him that his grand tour ambitions might still be within reach.