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ZINAL, Switzerland (VN) – Rohan Dennis took a huge step towards winning the Tour de Romandie after the race leader fended off the opposition on the mountaintop finish to Zinal. With an uphill time trial to come on Sunday to close out the race, the Australian holds a 15-second gap over Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates).
Dennis looked comfortable throughout the stage and much of that came down to the fact that his Jumbo-Visma team controlled proceedings for most of the day.
Sepp Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk did the majority of the work on the final two climbs, and a stiff headwind certainly helped dissuade any long-range attacks, but on the only terrain left to truly trouble Dennis the 31-year-old more than held firm. He finished 11th on the stage, only losing 3 seconds in the final dash for the line as Sergio Higuita (Bora Hansgrohe) claimed the stage.
“We had a fantastic team and we did the right strategy to make it happen for him,” team director Merijn Zeeman told VeloNews at the finish as Dennis made his way to the podium to pick up yet another leader’s jersey.
“I think we demoralized the peloton with that. He did a super job, maybe a little unexpected, but I’m very proud of all seven of them. It was super good. We controlled it really well and I’m happy with that.”
Dennis has yet to put a foot wrong in this year’s race and most of his rivals have spoken both publicly and privately about the rider’s current focus and headspace.
He put in an impressive performance in the opening prologue and has finished inside the top three on two further occasions in this year’s race.
Barring any major accident, mishap or a sensational ride from Ayuso in Sunday’s 15.8km time trial to Villars, the Jumbo-Visma rider will come away with the biggest stage racing result of his career.
Jumbo-Visma, even in the early stages of this relationship, appears to have found the right balance with an athlete who has had a reputation for being complicated to work with.
The Australian did not attend his post-race press conference that race leaders are obliged to attend but Zeeman reflected on how the team and athlete had come to complement each other’s needs.
“We’ve managed the expectations from both sides,” Zeeman told VeloNews when asked how the team had worked on getting the best out of Dennis.
“We were upfront at the start of the season and had a good plan. At Paris-Nice and Catalunya he was there in a domestique role and then at Romandie he is here in a leadership role. Then we go to altitude and then he goes back to a domestique role and I think that’s a good balance for Rohan. We don’t try to put pressure on that. We try to help him as best as possible with nutrition and equipment. We have a good team around him and if you create a good atmosphere like that then you create a good spirit. When he sees everyone fighting for him it also gives him a good feeling.”