There were no mechanicals, no tantrums, and no doubts. Rohan Dennis confirmed Wednesday he’s the fastest man in the world right now against the clock.
In a definitive victory that came months after his controversial exit from the Tour de France in July, the fiery 29-year-old Australian quieted his critics the best way possible.
“It’s been tough. All the hard work and hard times have been worth it,” Dennis said. “Something to prove? Not to anybody but myself.”
Again and again in his post-race interviews, Dennis credited his psychological strength over his physical form for the dominant ride. He referenced his renewed confidence, and his positive outlook on cycling—and life, in general—for helping him nail the perfect ride in Yorkshire. Dennis’s redemption, it seems, sprung more from his head and heart, than from his legs.
“There’s been a lot of work done off the bike, mentally, to get me to line up here and win—really, it’s a reminder that it wasn’t just my body,” Dennis told reporters. “My body was always good, it was a lot of work off the bike with my sports psychologist. It’s a thank you as well for what he’s done for me.”
Dennis spoke of focusing on happiness, and of blocking out the negative thoughts that clouded his mind. The focus on positivity seemed to mark a transformation for Dennis, who in the past has been forthcoming about his fiery temper.
When asked for details about his psychological transformation, Dennis told reporters that it was simply too difficult to discuss in a post-race interview. He had to learn to believe in himself, he said, and to focus on all of the good things in life, such as his wife, Melissa Hopkins, and his baby son. Block out the controversy from the Tour, and just focus on what was important to him, he said.
Indeed, on Wednesday morning Dennis posted a photo of him and his son playing together on his Instagram page.
“The picture from this morning really put everything into perspective of what actually does matter,” Dennis said. “It’s just a bike race, in the end, whatever happens, happens. Go out there and do your best. But my son isn’t going anywhere, neither is my wife. No matter the result, they’re going to support me off the bike or on the bike.”
Even with the impressive training sessions and emphasis on positive thinking, there was no guarantee that Dennis would be able to defend his title on Wednesday. He hadn’t raced since his Tour debacle, when he abruptly abandoned the race in an angry fit just a day ahead of the one stage that he had circled on his calendar all season long.
There was never any official explanation of what was behind the blow up, just whispers that the incident sprung from a disagreement over what equipment he would use at the Tour.
There were no rumblings of equipment arguments in Yorkshire. Dennis roared to victory on an unbranded jet-black BMC Time Machine, the same bike he won the worlds on last year and raced with during his stint at the now-defunct BMC Racing. As he crossed the line, he emphatically pointed to his head, or perhaps to his helmet, which was a teardrop-shaped aero helmet made by Lazer.
“Cycling Australia they think the BMC was the best bike for me and my body shape at this period in time,” he said. “I can’t speak for Bahrain-Merida or how they are feeling but for my result. I’m happy. It’s the biggest win of my career, to be honest with you.”
Dennis told reporters that he had a premonition that he was on good form, despite his lack of racing. The re-set was confirmed at a training camp on September 15th with his trainers and preferred equipment. Everything was flowing better than expected, and Dennis posted strong numbers to arrive to Yorkshire quietly confident he could defend his stripes.
“I had a good training session and it was we mimicked last year’s preparation training session and we bettered it, comfortably, and that’s when my confidence really came back,” Dennis said.
“Confidence is a huge part of time trialing,” he continued. “To say time trialist are special is yeah, that’s probably the nicest way to put it. I’ve got my [way] about trying to get to that very special place of pain which is not normal.”
There were a few key names missing Wednesday, including former world champion Tom Dumoulin, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, but that doesn’t take anything away from Dennis’s sublime performance and the pressure that he had put on himself.
He was the only rider in the 57-racer field to top an average speed of 49kph. Top challenger Victor Campenaerts (Belgium) went off the rails while Vuelta a España champion Primoz Roglic (Slovenia) seemed to run out of a gas from a long season.
Dennis couldn’t afford to make a mistake with Belgian phenom Remco Evenepoel sitting in the hot seat with a formidable time. Dennis powered home to victory, and collapsed in tears in the arms of his wife and newborn child.
“I knew I was on a good one,” he explained. “I was comfortable with the pace I was setting. You never know until you get that first time check. I was 20 seconds up and felt I still have more to give. And then another one I was 57 seconds and its like there’s not much more time they can take out of me. So at that point it’s like don’t take risks on the downhills, don’t’ lose speed, and I should win.”
More than anyone, Dennis’s main opponent was himself. As a rider who’s faced bitter disappointments, including an equipment failure involving his handlebars during the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, Dennis said he leaned on those closest to him to build himself up for the worlds. He admitted he needed to regroup and find a singular focus on Yorkshire following the stress and controversy of his Tour exit.
“It’s been a long road to get here since July,” he said. “It wasn’t just me out there, it was a whole group of people who have been working and it’s been tough for me but tough for them as well. To say winning today is the best and I have to say thank you to them.”
It was an emotional redemption for a rider who wears his emotions on his sleeve. And for the next 12 months, with the Olympics and a run at the hour record on the horizon, those sleeves will sport the rainbow colors.