Dennis, the fiery Australian time trial specialist, has emerged as Team Ineos Grenadiers’ secret weapon in its assault on the pink jersey with Tao Geoghegan Hart, who is now poised to win the race overall after two brutal stages in the mountains. On both days it was Dennis who absolutely shredded the peloton on the biggest climbs.
On Thursday’s stage 20 Dennis detonated the group of GC favorites up the Passo Stelvio, and then, two stages later, he blew the race apart on the penultimate ascent to Sestriere. On both climbs Dennis’ pace was simply too much for race favorite Wilco Kelderman, who was dropped.
“Happiness,” Dennis told Eurosport in an interview on Saturday, when asked about his emotions on the climbs. “Stelvio, when I went, that gave me that confidence that I could really hurt the GC guys and really help Tao when it mattered. And then today, I thought let’s just try it again. So, when I heard Wilco was gone, it gives you that bit of a lift.”
That lift has been mutual for both Dennis and Ineos Grenadiers. The British squad signed Dennis over the offseason after a tumultuous 2019 campaign for the Australian. In September 2019 Dennis’ then-team Bahrain-Merida terminated his two-year contract early in a move that resulted in his early departure from the Tour de France, when Dennis left the race unexpectedly on the eve of the stage 13 individual time trial. He never suited up for Bahrain-Merida after that incident.
After claiming his second world individual time trial in 2019, Dennis joined Ineos Grenadiers, and the signing came with another piece of news from the Australian. After years spent working to transform himself into a grand tour threat, Dennis was switching focus to targeting weeklong races and time trials. For grand tours, he would work as a domestique.
Dennis told Eurosport that performing domestique duty at Ineos Grenadiers was “an honor” due to the camaraderie within the squad.
“It was an honor to be able to work for this team and do everything possible,” Dennis said. “When you have a good team environment, it’s super easy to do your job, and to do more than what you’re supposed to do as well. It’s super easy.”
Ineos Grenadiers has emerged as the top team at this year’s Giro d’Italia despite a rocky start. The team entered the race backing Geraint Thomas’ assault on the pink jersey, and riders then watched in horror as Thomas struck a bidon and crashed in the early kilometers of stage 3. Thomas abandoned the race the next day, and Ineos Grenadiers appeared to be headed for another grand tour setback, just weeks after Egan Bernal dropped out of the Tour de France.
But Ineos Grenadiers rallied, and its riders launched a highly successful campaign to win stages. Filippo Ganna claimed two of the race’s two early time trials, and won a mountain stage as well. Jhonatan Narváez won stage 12, bringing Ineos Grenadiers’ haul to four stages overall.
Dennis, meanwhile, attacked into early breakaways throughout the opening two weeks, using his time trial prowess to power the moves clear.
“I had a bit of confidence from a few breakways where I felt strong, but I was never around the GC guys,” he said.
It wasn’t until stage 15, however, that Geoghegan Hart emerged as a true threat to win the overall. Geoghegan Hart won the stage and vaulted into fourth place overall, and the result seemed to pivot Ineos Grenadiers’ overall strategy heading into the race’s punishing final week.
Dennis, too, pivoted. Rather than attack into the breakaways, he rode in the main group. His training to become a GC rider for grand tours paid off, and he simply soared through the mountains.
On Saturday’s stage 20, Dennis took the front with 30km to go. The GC favorites were all in the bunch, but as Dennis tapped out a brutal pace, they fell away until only Jai Hindely was left.
“I’m not going to lie, with 45km to go I was feeling a little bit average,” Dennis said. “I over fueled, and I was actually burping and bringing stuff up, to be completely honest with you, so I was a little worried. I just kept that to myself and stuck to the plan.”
Dennis’ pace was eventually too much for Kelderman, who dropped with 30km to go while wearing the pink jersey. It was at that moment that the 2020 Giro d’Italia fell into the hands of Team Ineos and Geoghegan Hart. And the squad had Rohan Dennis to thank.
“Losing G on stage 4, and then the GC was thrown out the window, and now we’re equal for first,” Dennis said. “I think we’re ecstatic about everything that’s happened in the last 20 days.”