For Rohan Dennis, the world’s best time trial cyclist, the last year included the most difficult two months of his life, the best moment of his career and a move to the world’s dominant team. Then came the coronavirus pandemic, postponing his Olympic plan by a year.
Dennis discussed all of it with NBC Sports cycling host Paul Burmeister for a watchback of his 2019 World time trial title, airing on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on June 24 at 8 p.m. ET.
Olympic Channel’s World Championships Week features the 2019 World Road Cycling Championships beginning Monday. Dennis and Americans Chloe Dygert and Lawson Craddock join the special edition broadcasts to offer insights.
In the time trial, the Australian Dennis repeated as world champ in his first race since quitting the Tour de France the day before that Grand Tour’s time trial without explanation. He later cited a situation with his then-team, Bahrain-Merida, that affected his home life.
“It was probably the toughest eight, 10 weeks of my life,” Dennis said of the time between leaving the Tour on July 18 and leading up to the Sept. 25 time trial at worlds in Great Britain. “There was a lot of mental sort of battles within my own head each day thinking about obviously the Tour de France departure and everything.”
Dennis said he bounced between training a mile high in Andorra and at sea level in Girona, Spain.
“To keep things a little bit fresh because I was pulled out of all my races,” said Dennis, whose psychologist lived with him during that time. “I knew if I stayed in one place, it was going to play mind games with myself the whole time.”
Dennis’ training for worlds went so well that he believed a podium was guaranteed. Dennis dominated, distancing 19-year-old Belgian Remco Evenepoel by 68 seconds on a 33-mile course.
“It’s been a lot tougher than what it looked out there,” Dennis said that day, when he was surprised to be greeted by wife Melissa and baby son Oliver in the finish area. “It was absolutely perfect today.”
Now, Dennis calls it the best moment of a career that included time trial wins at all three Grand Tours, holding the hour record for two months in 2015 and a 2012 Olympic team pursuit silver medal and a pair of world titles in that discipline on the track.
Later last autumn, Dennis signed with Team Ineos, joining an already star studded roster that includes the last three Tour de France winners — Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal. He’s confident the team will have no leadership problems for the rescheduled Tour de France that starts Aug. 29.
“They’ve had this same situation more than once before,” Dennis said, citing Bradley Wiggins and Froome racing together in 2012, Thomas and Froome in 2018 and Bernal and Thomas in 2019. “The leadership works itself out. … The team always puts that goal first, so they really stamp out anything that can destroy the team winning. It’s not an individual who wins, even though it technically is. The goal is that Team Ineos has a rider on the top step of that podium in Paris. It doesn’t actually matter who it is.”
That rider will not be Dennis, whose focus is on the world championships time trial in Switzerland that falls on the same date as the last day of the Tour (Sept. 20). Dennis is “90 to 95 percent sure” he will not start the Tour de France this year. Next year’s Tour de France runs into the start of the Tokyo Olympics, so Dennis admits he could miss that Grand Tour, too.
“[A Tour de France] is something I want to do with the team,” said Dennis, who hopes to become the first Australian man to win an Olympic road cycling title. “It also is not a given that you’re in the team if you put your hand up for it on this team. It’s probably the hardest team to get into.”
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