Cyclist breaks silence on Tour exit
AUSTRALIAN cyclist Rohan Dennis has broken his silence after his dramatic Tour de France exit in July, describing the past two months as the toughest of his career, but he still believes he can defend his time trial world title in Yorkshire on September 25.
The 29-year-old was supposed to be racing the Vuelta a Espana which finishes on Sunday but was pulled from the Bahrain-Merida line-up 11 days before the race and has instead been training alone at his home in Andorra.
Dennis deleted his Twitter account after an online backlash to him abandoning the Tour de France mid-race on Stage 12 without explanation and until now has not spoken publicly about his sudden departure.
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Despite a turbulent two months, Dennis says his physical condition was as good as this time last year when he became the first Australian in 13 years to win the time trial rainbow jersey in Austria.
His sports psychologist arrived at his home on Monday and is working with him face-to-face daily before he dons the green and gold skinsuit in the 54km race against the clock in Yorkshire.
"Physically I'm still as good as I was last year and my power profile test that I did two weeks ago was the best numbers I've done ever," Dennis said.
"Mentally I have days where it's hard but I believe I can still win (in Yorkshire). It's more of a mental battle because all I've got is training, I don't have any racing to push me where I would have had goals to target stages and what not at the Vuelta.
"That would have been the perfect preparation, to get a huge base behind me.
"We were going to do the full Vuelta to test whether I could get the same physical response from doing a full Grand Tour potentially leading into Tokyo next year which is after the Tour de France.
"I still wanted to do the Vuelta but obviously it didn't happen.
"So it's been harder to prepare. We've changed training up a little bit, we've shortened the blocks to keep the intensity and the specific work there, and not been so heavily invested in the long rides.
"My sports psych is doing the last two weeks of preparation with me and to give some support. It hasn't been super easy to be honest."
Asked whether it had been the most challenging period of his seven-year WorldTour career, Dennis said "yeah, without question".
It started on July 18 when Dennis hopped off his bike 80km from the finish of Stage 12 in Bagneres-de-Bigorre, got in the team car and left the race one day before the time trial which he was favourite to win.
It was the first time he had pulled out of a bike race without physical injury or it being pre-planned as part of team strategy or preparation for another race.
"It wasn't pre-planned, it wasn't a stunt, I was talking to my manager before the start and we agreed on finishing the stage and deal with everything else after but I knew that by pulling out in the short term I'd have to deal with some shit, some backlash - I didn't expect it to be this big because it's a bike race - but long term it was the best thing for me to do," Dennis said.
"The whole stage I was thinking about everything and it was a battle in my own head for a fair chunk of the day.
"And if someone is not in the right headspace in a team environment, if someone is not happy, maybe it's also the best thing for the team, and I spoke to the guys at the hotel that night and there were no hard feelings.
"They didn't expect it to happen, even (Vincenzo) Nibali said 'I followed you to where you pulled off and had to get going again', but it wasn't like they felt like I'd dogged them. They said 'OK, you're out, all good'."
It has been reported that Dennis was upset with a skinsuit that the team had arranged for him to wear in the following day's time trial and there were ongoing disputes regarding bikes and equipment.
Dennis would not confirm or deny those reports and said he would not comment on any internal matters that were between him and the team.
"What I did was pull out of a race, it's been blown out of proportion so much that people have slammed me for being everything under the sun," Dennis said.
"I've read pretty well every post (on social media) and people didn't get a response from me so they started sending my wife direct messages.
"I've come off Twitter and haven't got into a slandering match because we have given other people the chance to try to sort this out in a mature way.
"I don't want to put any more fuel on the fire.
"Not once did I bad-mouth any sponsor or the team or any other rider when I pulled out or before I pulled out in the media.
"I was more than happy to talk to the media until that last day.
"Have other people said things and put out rumours? Yes. But I haven't. It's only fair for all parties."
The night Dennis left the Tour de France, his sports psychologist David Spindler drove four hours from Girona to pick him up and they immediately drove back to Andorra, not getting home until after midnight.
"We went home and tried to decompress really, and I didn't ride for four days but still got out of the house," Dennis said.
"I tried to chill out and get my head around everything and then I got back into training."
Two weeks later he flew to Tokyo to inspect the 2020 Olympic time trial course with Cycling Australia's high performance staff.
"I am motivated by Tokyo, but I'm more driven by worlds this year to be honest. I've got that target first and I'm not trying to look too far ahead," he said.
"Tokyo is still a big goal of mine and going there seeing the course and what will give me the best opportunity to win with (coach) Neal (Henderson) and the Aussie national team, it was also a good thing mentally to get into that environment with those people in the national team who are fully backing me.
"Brad McGee, Paul Brosnan and Simon Jones - who wasn't there but is fully supportive of me being in the Australian team."
Dennis will ride an unmarked bike complete with wheels and components all supplied by the Australian national team when he defends his world title in a fortnight.
"It is what they (national team) deem the best thing for my body shape and my position for me to try to win," he said.
He said the Yorkshire course had some "short and sharp climbs" with narrow, windy roads that he would need to familiarise himself with before race day. Australia's reigning national time trial champion Luke Durbridge - who beat Dennis in Buninyong in January - is also in contention to ride the time trial at worlds.
Beyond that, Dennis doesn't know if he will be selected to race for Bahrain-Merida again this season but is contracted to the team for next year and expects to be there.
"I've pushed a win in every race I've been told to try to win this year," he said.
"I was second at the Tour of Swiss and won a stage there and got fifth at the Tour Down Under and I've only tried to improve the team.
"At the moment yeah, I'll be there (next season)."