The former Hour Record holder has been slowly developing into a stage racer under the wings of BMC Racing. The steady progress saw him finish second overall in the 2017 edition of Tirreno-Adriatico behind Nairo Quintana.
Over the last year, the team and Dennis have been working on his kick and power in the fifth and sixth hour of racing to allow him compete in the long mountain days. This year’s Giro could be the first time that the 27-year-old is put to the test racing along with the stars.
“How far can he go? Good question!” BMC Racing sports director, Max Sciandri said to Cycling Weekly.
“I don’t really want to say. A top 10 would be an amazing result. Just to be realistic, not to put anything ahead of something else. I’d say a top 10 would be a great result.
“If you do a top 10 then you know your limits and where you need to improve, what you need to change. A top 10 could be a great result. Winning a stage on that top 10 would be a massive result.”
Dennis is one of only four active riders to wear the leader’s jersey in all three Grand Tours along with Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru and Mark Cavendish. Just like at the 2018 Giro, the other times in the lead came via time trialling but Dennis now looks more complete and able to challenge over three weeks.
“Dennis? Yes, he’s a serious rival,” Froome explained, a comment that pleased Sciandri.
“That’s great to hear!” Sciandri said of the comment. “Rohan is a very dynamic rider, even if he’s a time triallist and he can deliver an amazing amount of watts and power on a pan-flat straight time trial, but he is a dynamic guy and he’s evolving.
“He’s becoming mature, responsible, and confident with handling the pressure and popularity of a leader’s jersey. Chris is a guy who knows his opponents, so if he considers him a strong guy, then that’s great.”
Watch: Giro d’Italia stage five highlights
Dennis is under the BMC Racing umbrella that protected Cadel Evans, the first Australian to win the Tour de France in 2012. The team also helped Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen in the Grand Tours.
For one reason or another, though, Dennis has yet to have a proper swing at a Grand Tour. He abandoned after crashing in the 2017 Giro d’Italia and had to pull out of the 2017 Vuelta a España with a respiratory infection.
The 2018 Giro appears different. He fell just two seconds shy of winning the Jerusalem time trial that started the race and the next day, BMC Racing and Dennis showed they are serious with a long and hard effort that was capped off with Dennis’s sprint for the three-second intermediate sprint which moved him into the pink jersey.
“This year, it’s a different approach. I said to him, ‘don’t be afraid to make an effort now to get that jersey’ when we did all the work on the front on the day we got it in Tel Aviv. It gives motivation, the team and confidence around each other,” Sciandri continued.
“We’ll shift to the overall plan, it’s done by week. It’s a weekly picture I’d say, just to keep it more realistic. And it can go down to a daily programme. The last week will be a total unknown world for him: how he can perform, what his condition will be, mental condition, physical condition.”
In Dennis’s favour, as well as Froome’s and Dumoulin’s, is a long 34.2-kilometre time trial at the start of the third week. The stages beforehand and the rest of the third week, however, contain much climbing.
“I’ve done a lot of climbing, and also more efforts, in the second half or at the end of long rides,” Dennis explained. “That’s where the racing is, not in the first hour. There are not many guys who can match me in the first hour, but there are plenty who can match me in the fifth. So that’s what I really need to work on.”