Rohan Dennis knew his grip on the pink jersey was hanging by a thread, and slowly but surely it started to unravel on the steep upper reaches of Mount Etna.
The Australian’s run in pink ended after the Mitchelton-Scott team — coincidentally an Aussie outfit — delivered a superb performance to finish 1-2 on the Giro d’Italia’s first major mountain summit finale, stage 6 Thursday.
BMC Racing’s Dennis slipped to sixth at 53 seconds behind new leader Simon Yates, but he’s still ahead of Chris Froome (Sky). Sometimes the Giro is a matter of perspective, and Dennis took the sunny side up view Thursday.
“I was pretty happy with my climb today,” said Dennis, who led the Giro from stage 2. “There were points I was in trouble, but I stayed calm and rode back onto the guys who were the winners in the end. I can take confidence in that.”
Most of the odds-makers were expecting him to cede the pink jersey once the course hit the final upper reaches of Etna. Dennis rode well to stay close, but when the real attacks came on the steepest part of the climb within the final 5km, Dennis had to cede ground to the sleek climbers.
“To keep the jersey today really would have been like a dream,” said BMC sport director Max Sciandri. “We reassess now. The GC goals don’t change. We just came off an amazing moment and we still have a lot to look forward to.”
Dennis isn’t going to throw away his GC ambitions after the Giro’s first major climb. Although he gave up 1:04 to stage-winner Esteban Chaves and Yates, Dennis is still comfortably in the top-10.
“Nothing changes for me today,” Dennis said. “Obviously, I don’t have pink anymore, but it’s not an issue. I knew it was going to happen sooner or later.”
His days in pink were not in vain, and he took away a lot in terms of leading a team, defending a jersey, and tasting the pressure of carrying the weight of the race. Already a proven time trial powerhouse, the BMC Racing rider has laid out a “four-year plan” to see how far he can go in grand tours.
“I am still not that far behind,” Dennis concluded. “If I can stay somewhat within reach, hopefully, that time trial [stage 16] can help me out.
“It was amazing to wear the pink jersey,” he continued. “It was something that I was hoping for, but you never expect it. It was a bonus of it being my third leader’s jerseys in all three grand tours, but even if it was my first one, it would have been just as special.”