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BUNINYONG, Australia (VN) — Richie Porte’s bad luck in the Tour de France last year has helped fellow Australian Rohan Dennis learn an important lesson that he will draw on in his development into a grand tour rider that starts this year.
Dennis, who rides for BMC Racing with Porte, believes the 30-year-old Tasmanian definitely has what it takes to take on the likes of triple Tour de France champion Chris Froome of Sky and Nairo Quintana of Movistar in the Tour.
Dennis even believes Porte is the superior climber. But the 26-year-old South Australian says Porte needs a trouble-free Tour to get the best chance of winning the three-week race.
In the 2016 Tour, Porte lost 1:45 to his main rivals on stage 2 after puncturing with 5km to go, and more time on the stage 12 finish up Mont Ventoux after he crashed into a television motorbike and then had Froome ride into him from behind, forcing the Briton to get up and run 50 meters without a bike.
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Nevertheless, Porte still finished fifth overall at 5:17 behind Froome.
“He definitely has got the goods,” Dennis said of Porte Thursday after defending his elite time trial title on day two of the Australian Road Championships in Buninyong, Victoria. Porte is not competing at the event, opting instead to start his racing season at the Santos Tour Down Under in South Australia, January 14-22.
“It’s just a matter of — like with 2016 — luck,” Dennis said. “He didn’t have luck on his side on the Tour. Froome would have still won because of the time trials, but Richie was the best climber there. It is just a matter of making those gains and hoping that he’s the one that has the less bad luck you could say.”
Meanwhile, Dennis’ time trial win on Thursday over Luke Durbridge, the 2012 and 2013 winner, and Ben Dyball was a terrific start to a season that he has penciled in as the first of his long-term development into a grand tour contender.
Dennis will race the Giro d’Italia this year alongside American teammate Tejay van Garderen. He said Porte’s ability to overcome adversity in last year’s Tour has inspired him.
Dennis raced the 2016 Tour, but withdrew before stage 17 to fine-tune his preparations for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics time trial.
Asked what he learned from Porte in the Tour, Dennis replied: “When things go wrong, don’t throw the towel in. “He lost two minutes on stage 2. He hit the motor bike on Ventoux which lost him time, or lost time that he could have gained. But he never gave in. He just kept boring in, boring in.
“In hindsight, he should have been on the podium, but he wasn’t. But still he kept going and didn’t let any bad luck get in his way. That’s the main thing you could take away from the Tour: what he did last year. Things don’t always go right.
“You just have to put your head down and get to the finish.”
Porte is absent at these road nationals in which he won silver behind Dennis in last year’s time trial after beating Dennis to win the event in 2015. But he believes Porte will be up for the challenge of trying to win this year’s Tour Down Under.
“He wants to win it,” Dennis said of Porte’s intent for the race in which he placed second overall the last two years. He has won the fifth stage to Old Willunga Hill a record three times.
“I know that … because when I won [the Tour Down Under] in 2015, he said, ‘Do you want to swap the national [time trial champion’s] jersey for this?’ I said, ‘Nah, I’ll be right mate. I’ll let you keep that jersey for the year.’ He is really keen to win it, but at the same time he is very conscious about not peaking in January as well. There are going to be guys that are going really, really well in January. In all honestly I think if he peaked just for Tour Down Under, he would smash it.”
As for his own grand tour aspirations, Dennis is prepared to stumble and even “fail” if it means learning from those helps him.
Dennis will race the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Geelong, Victoria after the Tour Down Under and then will tackle a Giro buildup that will include Tour La Provence, Tirreno-Adriatico, Volta a Catalunya, and Giro del Trentino.
Asked about his new career pathway, Dennis said: “There is no pressure this year for me to be the GC guy in the team. We have still got Richie and Tejay, and we still have ‘Nico’ Roche as well and who is super strong when it comes to GC.
“I am at that progression over the next four years to move into a full-time GC [rider] and try to learn off those guys to hopefully be on the podium. This year is a lot about learning, and that might be that I actually don’t get any results this year.
“I might look like I am completely crap; but it’s what I am going to learn [that counts]. I might fail, really fail, when it comes to Giro, but it’s all about learning how to look after myself for three weeks and making those small steps over.
“Hopefully I’ll see light at the end of the tunnel come 2020.”