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Philippa York: A Rohan Dennis defeat with plenty of silver linings

Jumbo-Visma is getting the best out of a happy, committed and determined Rohan Dennis.

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Coming into the 75th edition of the Tour de Romandie it would have been fair to say that Rohan Dennis wasn’t in many people’s thoughts as a potential winner.

Looking at the route with its 13,000 meters of climbing spread over six days, Jumbo-Visma’s choice of leader on paper could have conceivably been Sepp Kuss or Steven Kruijswijk, both notable performers in the Tour de France, and better climbers.

However, this Romandie had two time trials and only one big mountain stage as a precursor to the final test up to Villars, a climb that the race had featured in 2018 when Dennis took a seventh overall.

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On that occasion, he lost 38 seconds to Kruijswijk in the 9.9km of climbing on the time trial to Villars but this time around there was a significant portion on the flat road before that same ascent, and so I imagine that the Dutch team put the data into the computer and came out with the Australian as the best proposition for the overall victory.

After the prologue, it certainly seemed to be the correct choice with Dennis finishing just short of Ethan Hayter and looking really solid with three days of rolling terrain on the menu before the weekend’s crucial days.

However, things really changed on stage 1 when Hayter was involved in a crash with 20km to go and Jumbo-Visma inherited the race lead. But not content to rely on his lead from the prologue, Dennis put in an impressive attack on the ramp to the line in Romont and was only just passed in the final 15 meters by Dylan Teuns.

Dennis’ brutal attack at the end of the stage was a warning to everyone that he was here to target the final classification. The next two days saw him race attentively, and he was rarely caught out if any of the other GC favorites tried to take any time back on him.

He even grabbed bonus seconds for third place when Paddy Bevin won a reduced bunch sprint. With Geraint Thomas, the defending champion, losing 20 seconds for an illegal feed, things were looking up for Dennis and Jumbo, but there was still the queen stage to negotiate.

Ineos and Jumbo – the strongest squads in the race – had been the main protagonists in controlling affairs up until then but the British team left the race leader’s team to do the work over the six climbs of stage 4.

Jumbo-Visma managed the situation brilliantly with Kuss and Kruijswijk by Dennis’ side. The Australian never looked to be in any real trouble, only ceding a few seconds in the sprint to the line.

Then came the final test, the 15.8km time trial to Villars. It all unraveled for the Australian but to fixate on the negative would undermine Dennis’ performance throughout the week.

Despite a below par time trial performance, where he didn’t look at all comfortable after a bike swap, this race was significant for Dennis, as it further reinforced his place in Jumbo Visma’s Tour de France squad, where he’ll be one of the corner stones supporting Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard.

He’d been excellent from day one right through until an ending that wasn’t what he wanted but he always focused and attentive to where his rivals were and rode to his strengths.

He has said he needs to lose a couple of kilos to be perfect but Romandie is always an indication of climbing prowess and he’s not exactly been shabby in that department.

The shorter ascents of midweek may have suited him more and yet he was smart enough to stay within his capabilities on the mountain top finish. He may have been mugged on the last day by a remarkable Aleksandr Vlasov, however there are some good points nevertheless.

Reassuringly, he seems happy and settled at his new team, and for someone who has the reputation of being slightly complicated to please that is surely a good sign for the future.