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Rohan Dennis sets his sights on California

The Bahrain-Merida rider is focused on winning the Tour of California and then helping Vincenzo Nibali at the Tour de France.

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (VN) — Rohan Dennis is California Dreamin’.

The Australian time trial ace told VeloNews he has two personal goals for the 2019 season: defend his world title in the individual time trial and win the Amgen Tour of California.

“Obviously, you have to consider fitness and health and luck and everything,” Dennis said. “That would be a perfect year.”

Dennis transferred from BMC Racing to Bahrain-Merida in the offseason to bolster the squad’s grand tour ambitions. He will skip the Giro d’Italia this spring and will instead ride the Tour de France as a super domestique for Vincenzo Nibali, who is tackling both the Giro and the Tour.

The Tour-centric spring means Dennis must do extra efforts in the high mountains.

“I have to be able to do those final big efforts in the mountains, no matter if it’s for me or Vincenzo,” Dennis said.

And that’s where the California race plays into Dennis’s overall plan. This year the race lacks an individual time trial; it includes plenty of mountains, including the summit finish to Mt. Baldy, as well as hilly stages to South Lake Tahoe and Morgan Hill.

The route will force Dennis to use his climbing legs and tactical smarts, rather than his time trial skills. A victory in California would be proof that Dennis can win a weeklong event without relying on the race against the clock.

“It’s something I really need to focus on — doing a weeklong stage race without letting myself fall back on the time trial,” Dennis said. “It will force myself to fight for every road and mountain stage.”

A victory in California would mark another important stepping stone in Dennis’s years-long transformation from an individual pursuit rider into a grand tour threat. He finished second overall at California in 2014, just 30 seconds behind Bradley Wiggins. The result was the first hint that Dennis could have the skills to win larger stage races.

Last year, Dennis got his first opportunity to lead a team at a grand tour. He led BMC at the Giro d’Italia and wore the leader’s jersey for four stages before slipping to 17th place overall, nearly an hour down on Chris Froome.

Dennis said he felt strong during the three-week race until the 19th stage, which is when Chris Froome went on his race-winning attack over the Colle delle Finestre.

“I started to feel it on stage 18, and the next day when Chris went on his jaunt, it really hurt me,” Dennis said. “Up until then I felt like I was in control and was more or less on track to finish [in the] top 10. I guess if a grand tour ended at 18 stages I would have been perfect.”

Since then, Dennis has again followed a training regimen that elevates climbing over the short, intensive time trialing efforts he previously did as an individual pursuit rider. Last year, VeloNews chronicled Dennis’s physiological transition from a pursuit rider into a grand tour contender. The plan forced Dennis to increase his training volume and to spend more days riding in the high mountains.

The plan continues through 2019, he said. He still has grand tour leadership on his list of long-term goals.

“Last year was the first time I raced GC from first day to last,” Dennis said. “It all comes down to being able to do that more than once. It comes down to practice.”