HARROGATE, England (Reuters) - Australian Rohan Dennis admits he has been in a dark place since going AWOL at this year’s Tour de France but he emerged from a cloud of self-doubt to win the UCI Road World Championships time trial on Wednesday for a second successive year.
The 29-year-old, riding a matt-black black bike sporting no trade team logos or branding, proved untouchable on the 54km course across rolling Yorkshire countryside.
Averaging 49.7kph he roared across the finish line in Harrogate in 1:05:05, one minute and eight seconds ahead of Belgian youngster Renko Evenepoel who a year ago won gold in the junior time trial and road race race.
Italian Filippo Ganna was another 47 seconds back as only three riders got within two minutes of his time.
For the second day running the time trial gold medal had been won by a country mile, after American Chloe Dygert’s sensational victory 24 hours earlier.
Yet Dennis, who abandoned the Tour midway through the 12th stage, a day before the individual TT, and went missing for over an hour, admitted it was less than two weeks ago that he finally emerged from his post-Tour funk.
He has not raced for his Bahrain-Merida team since the Tour, will not confirm whether he will ride for them next year and admits his confidence was shot.
But the weight lifted off his shoulders as he flung himself around the hair-raising turns on Wednesday, reeling in several riders who started before him, including last year’s bronze medallist Victor Campenaerts and Vuelta winner Primoz Roglic.
Campenaerts suffered a crash while Roglic was caught after 31km despite starting three minutes earlier. The Slovenian then bizarrely raced Dennis to the line.
“It’s been a long route to get here since July,” Dennis, who pointed to his head at the finish, told a news conference held in a church. “There are a lot of people to thank. It’s not just been tough for me, it’s been tough for them too.”
Asked about his odd build-up to the Championships, Dennis said; “The confidence did not come until very late in my preparation. It wasn’t until Sept. 15 when I nailed a training session and that’s when the confidence came up.
“That was a real turning-point. It was about getting the mental side to really be back in that fold of not caring too much. When I was riding I was thinking negatively and that was effecting my training. My coach Neal Henderson has tried to help me through thinking I wasn’t good enough.
“Confidence is a huge part of time trialling. Today I was just zoning out, counting the pedal strokes for an hour. It’s just about going to a special place of pain.”
Adelaide-born Dennis, a former Hour record holder, said his wife had sent him a photo of his baby son on the morning of the race, helping him keep everything in perspective.
“When I saw that picture I thought this is just a bike race,” he said. “It’s nice to win but when I’m 65 this won’t be in my top 10 things that happened in my life.”
Dennis hopes to have a few more years in the ‘top seat’ and will be gunning for gold in Tokyo but admitted times are a changing, pointing to 19-year-old Evenepoel alongside him.
Evenepoel, already being likened to Belgian great Eddy Merckx after winning the European TT title and the San Sebastian Classic in his first year as a pro, is the youngest medallist ever in the event and said his silver “felt like a gold”.
Reporting by Martyn Herman,; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Ed Osmond