Rohan Dennis reflects on time trial, weighs Tour de France, gold medals

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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 FroomeGeraint 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.”

MORE: USA Cycling names Olympic team finalists

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Coco Gauff upsets 9th seed to start French Open

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Coco Gauff notched yet another impressive Grand Slam match win, taking out ninth seed Jo Konta in her French Open main draw debut on Sunday.

Gauff, a 16-year-old American, upset the Brit Konta, a 2019 French Open semifinalist, 6-3, 6-3 on the first day of play at Roland Garros despite 12 double faults. Konta had 41 unforced errors to 22 winners.

“Every match is a great win,” said Gauff, the youngest player in either singles draw. “I don’t really take anything for granted because I’m just happy to be playing. I don’t think maybe winning Slams, matches at Slams is something I’m used to. Especially, this is my first main draw Roland Garros. When I’m on the court. I can act like I’m used to it. When I’m off the court, I’m just happy to be here.”

The clay-court Slam was postponed from May due to the coronavirus pandemic, is being held with damp temperatures in the 50s and has limited spectators to 1,000 per day.

“I’m pretty sure this is my first ever pro tournament, maybe even tournament in general, playing in weather like this,” said Gauff, noting she warmed up for 20 minutes before going on court so she could walk in with a sweat.

Gauff, the 2018 French Open junior champion, gets Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan in the second round after playing a match in leggings for the first time in about six years.

She’s coming off an impressive last year-plus, reaching the fourth round at the most recent Wimbledon and Australian Open. In between, she became the youngest WTA tournament champion since 2004. She recorded wins over Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka.

Gauff will bid over the next nine months to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team outright by being among the top four Americans in WTA rankings after the 2021 French Open. Therefore, her result at this French Open will not count toward Olympic qualifying.

She is currently ranked 51st overall and eighth among Americans.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier Sunday, Williams finished her 2020 with a third first-round loss in as many Grand Slam tournaments — 6-4, 6-4 to Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

With the WTA’s autumn Asian swing canceled, Williams said she won’t play before next season starts in Australia.

Williams, 40 years old and ranked 76th, will need a scintillating start to 2021 to make the U.S. Olympic team in singles. She is currently the 14th-highest-ranked American. If she doesn’t make it in singles, Williams (or Gauff) could be chosen as a doubles-only player for the Tokyo Games.

Top seed Simona Halep took the last 10 games of her 6-4, 6-0 win over Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo. Halep, who is on a 15-match win streak dating to February, could play Gauff in the quarterfinals.

On the men’s side, Stan Wawrinka swept Andy Murray 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in a battle of three-time major champions and a rematch of their life-changing 2017 semifinal in Paris.

“I need to have a long, hard think about it,” Murray said. “I don’t feel like the conditions are an excuse for it.”

It marked Murray’s first match on clay since that semi, won by Wawrinka in five sets. After that match three years ago, Wawrinka underwent two knee surgeries and Murray had two hip surgeries. Neither has made a Grand Slam semifinal since, and Murray nearly retired due to hip problems.

U.S. men went 3-0 on Sunday after winning one match total at the 2019 French Open.

The most notable victor: Sebastian Korda, the 20-year-old son of Czech 1998 Australian Open winner Petr Korda and brother of Nelly Korda, the world’s second-ranked female golfer.

Korda beat Italian veteran Andreas Seppi 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to become the youngest U.S. man to win a French Open main-draw match since 18-year-old Andy Roddick defeated Michael Chang in 2001.

Korda, after his first tour-level win, gets John Isner in the second round.

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal, each trying to tie Grand Slam singles titles records, play first-round matches on Monday.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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Julian Alaphilippe wins world road race title with late attack

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Julian Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman to win a road cycling world title in 23 years, attacking late and holding on to prevail by 24 seconds in Imola, Italy, on Sunday.

Alaphilippe, who wore the Tour de France yellow jersey for 16 stages between the last two years, went clear from a star-filled group at the top of the last climb with about eight miles left of a 160-mile day.

“It was a dream of my career, you know,” said Alaphilippe, whose best previous worlds finish was eighth. “I came here with, for sure, a lot of ambition. It’s just a dream day for me.”

Belgian Wout van Aert took silver, followed by Swiss Marc Hirschi in a five-man bunch sprint for the last two medals. Van Aert also earned silver in the time trial on Friday.

Slovenian Primoz Roglic, who was second in the Tour de France, finished sixth in the same time as the silver and bronze medalists after more than six and a half hours of racing.

The top American was Sepp Kuss in 52nd place, 12:35 behind.

Full results are here.

The last Frenchmen to win world titles were Laurent Brochard (road race) and Laurent Jalabert (time trial) in 1997.

Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, who won the Tour de France last Sunday, attacked with 26 miles left. He led by as much as 25 seconds before being reeled back in with about 13 miles to go.

The cycling season continues with the last two Grand Tours, each starting later than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Giro d’Italia begins Oct. 3, and the Vuelta a Espana starts Oct. 20, before the Giro finishes.

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MORE: A more equal future for women’s cycling? Lizzie Deignan has high hopes