Rohan Dennis (Jumbo-Visma) rode his way into the Tour de Romandie overall lead after stepping onto the podium for a second day on Wednesday, but even with the leaders’ jersey on his back the Australian isn’t claiming a billing as one of the favourites – not given the climbs ahead.
It was no surprise when the Australian time-trial champion was near the top of the results board after the 5.12km prologue, but it was a little less predictable when the 31 year old leapt out of the field as the road turned up one kilometre from the finish. The force of his acceleration quickly pulled out a gap and Dennis had looked to be on his way to both the race leadership and stage victory but then Dylan Teuns (Bahrain Victorious) delivered a scorching pace to close the gap on a fading Dennis just before the line.
“I gave everything, but I was empty in the last hundred metres,” said Dennis after the stage. “Initially, I followed Brandon McNulty’s tempo acceleration. Even though it hurt, I felt I could go faster. I hoped to create a gap and ensure I was at least on the podium. A few metres less and I would have won, but I am happy with the result.”
That second place for Dennis on stage 1 of the six-day Tour of Romandie meant he not only claimed the race lead, almost an inevitability after prologue winner Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) was embroiled in a crash at around 15km to go, but also managed to snatch a few more seconds on the rest of his overall rivals.
Dennis now holds a 16 second gap to his nearest rivals – Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe) and 2021 winner Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) – after securing a six second time bonus and coming over the line four seconds ahead of the peloton. The Jumbo-Visma rider’s attack also highlighted that his powerful form on display in the race against the clock is also working in his favour on the climbs or, as the rider himself pointed out, on the short ones at least.
The GC gaps, however, are still small, with 18 riders within 30 seconds of Dennis and the top 45 riders within one minute. The stages where there is a likelihood of big time gains – and losses – that could transform the GC rankings are still to come. In particular the Queen stage on Saturday, which delivers more than 4,000 metres of vertical ascent and a summit finish, is a day where the pure climbers may have an advantage over Dennis.
“I think I need to lose a little bit of timber off the rear end to be able to go up the climbs on Saturday as well as what some of these other little guys can,” said Dennis. “Every day I will ride to the finish line as hard as I possibly can and see what happens with GC. But I am not saying that I am one of the favourites, even after today and yesterday.”
Still, the rider who has twice claimed the rainbow bands of the time trial world champion, has at times shown remarkable staying power in the mountains – notably at the 2020 Giro d’Italia as he played a key role in Tao Geoghegan Hart’s victory – plus he has had a measured shift in emphasis toward climbing since arriving at Jumbo-Visma this season.
”My preparation has changed a little bit,” said Dennis. “We are more focussed on me being a really big helper in the Tour de France. Time trials are still obviously there and a focus of mine, but to be there in the high mountains when push comes to shove in July is really important for [Primož] Roglič and [Jonas] Vingegaard.”