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Dennis brings TT focus to Bahrain-Merida

The Australian starts training with new teammates this week, and team manager Brent Copeland is excited about his arrival.

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — World time trial champion Rohan Dennis and Bahrain-Merida begin a new chapter this week in Croatia at the team’s pre-season camp.

The Australian signed with the team sponsored by the small island state in the Persian Gulf. Fresh off his time trial championship, he will jump from BMC Racing for the 2019 season.

“Having Dennis come on board is huge,” team manager Brent Copeland told VeloNews.

“The team has never been focused on time trials because we have been building the team around Vincenzo Nibali, but we brought Dennis on board and trainer David Bailey as well.

“We want to start investing in that area as well, especially with [bike supplier] Merida, who’ve made the new time trial bikes. We are excited about that.”

The team saw the Izagirre bothers, Gorka and Ion, depart for Astana, but it takes on a much more international feel with Dennis, Belgian Dylan Teuns, German Phil Bauhaus, and Brit Stephen Williams.

The 28-year-old Dennis hails from Adelaide and has made huge leaps in the last five years. The progress has seen him wear the leader’s jersey in all three grand tours.

This 2018 season, he led the Giro d’Italia for four days and won the race’s long time trial. He wore the red jersey in the Vuelta a España and won both time trials there before going on to conquer the worlds TT ahead of defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb).

With Dennis, Bahrain-Merida is giving more attention to time trials. They will help him push for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and beyond as a grand tour rider.

“It’s more and more important for all teams, if you want to win GC races, even if it’s one-week races, you have to invest a lot of time in TTs. If you don’t, you are not going to get those couple of seconds which are so important for the overall win,” Copeland added.

“We discussed with Rohan that we are open to support to him with what he wants to go for, and his request is to keep concentrating on the TT until after the Tokyo Olympics. After that, we will see in which direction we want to go.

“Our thoughts are to eventually move into the GC for three-week races. Whether it’s doable or not, I’m not sure, but on paper we are confident he can make huge improvements in those areas. Looking at his weight at the moment and the way he rode the Giro this year, he can do it once he starts losing weight, starts working more on climbing, without losing his TT strengths. I believe he can do it.”

BMC Racing had worked with Dennis to help lead him toward that ultimate goal. Now it is up to Copeland and his team.

Copeland read off the top four of the 2018 Tour de France: Geraint Thomas (Sky), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Chris Froome (Sky), and Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo).

“These types of riders have pretty similar characteristics to Rohan’s,” he continued. “Grand tours? That’s what we’d like to do and we are thinking of doing.”

Bahrain will put Dennis in races with time trials and team time trials. The latter is important with the push to get Nibali back to the Tour de France after a fan caused his early abandonment in 2018. The 2019 Tour features two races against the clock — the stage 13 TTT will be contested over 27km in Pau.

“He’ll probably race the 2019 Tour because there is the team time trial and it’s the best preparation toward the worlds,” said Copeland.

“We have to decide on Tirreno-Adriatico or Paris-Nice in March and some other one-week races. It depends on Vincenzo’s program, we’d like to have [Dennis] do some races with Vincenzo, especially if it involves a team time trial looking ahead to the Tour.”

The team will announce Dennis’s full schedule in the coming days after meetings at its camp in Croatia, which runs until December 21.