106th Tour de France 2019 - Stage 10
106th Tour de France 2019 - Stage 10

‘I go to a very, very special place’

Rohan Dennis offers the sort of smirk that suggests he's only half-joking.

"I've got something wrong with me, to say the least," Dennis says.

As long as he can remember, the South Australian has loved to hurt. As a kid it started in the pool; as an adult it has catapulted him to the very top of professional cycling.

The best time-trialler in the world, Dennis has worn the leader's jersey at the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana and also won a stage in each of them.

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But it is Dennis' rare ability against the clock - the so-called 'race of truth' - that he wears the crown.

"It's just you and the effort, that's it," he says.

"I go to a very, very special place, I can tell you. Special is one word for it, anyway."

Rohan Dennis has his eyes on a stage win in Pau.
Rohan Dennis has his eyes on a stage win in Pau.

It is a discipline that requires enormous focus, concentration and discipline - qualities that has put Dennis at odds with others down the years.

He knows where he wants to get to, literally on the bike and figuratively off it. He can be intense, but he makes no apologies for it.

It's why he occasionally clashed with members of the team pursuit team, mainly Jack Bobridge, that won silver at the London Olympics in 2012.

"There were some testing times, I'll put it like that," says Dennis, whose love-affair with the sport started on the track.

"There was a few times when I thought the professionalism of the team wasn't there. Early days I thought, 'It's all good, have some fun', but getting closer to London it was a bit like, 'This needs to change, I can see this unfolding in a bad way'.

"It did."

Rohan Dennis takes a break with fellow riders before the start of stage 10.
Rohan Dennis takes a break with fellow riders before the start of stage 10.

It was 4am in the Spanish town of Girona in June 2012 - little more than a month before the Olympics - when Dennis was woken by a phone call telling him pursuit teammates Bobridge and Michael Hepburn had been locked up after a drink-driving accident in a car park in the nearby resort town of Lloret de Mar.

Hepburn broke his hand in the crash and needed surgery.

"The next morning I got a phone call from the upper management of Cycling Australia and I just said: 'Well, this could be London done. Just cross your fingers'," Dennis says.

"It was a love-hate relationship with a lot of us."

Having his destiny in his own hands was part of the reason Dennis rejected an invitation to return to the track in 2014, preferring to focus on his road career in a decision that has since been well-vindicated.

As for this Tour de France, the Stage 13 time trial in Pau has his name written all over it, but Dennis has other objectives for the rest of the race.

"I would like to get a road stage, but it's a little bit harder," he says.

"My plan here was to come for stages. To more or less take the first week or two pretty cruisy … and try for chances in the third week when, fingers crossed, my legs aren't feeling as ruined as other guys."

He says the constant talk about him evolving from time trial specialist to a genuine GC contender is a "compliment" only.

"At the same time I just go 'Yeah, whatever'. This is my plan and if you don't like it I don't give a crap'," Dennis says.