Thursday 22 March 2018

Record-breaker Dennis leaves rivals reeling

Rohan Dennis on his way to winning yesterday’s prologue
Rohan Dennis on his way to winning yesterday’s prologue

Barry Glendenning in Urecht

Australian time trial specialist Rohan Dennis will be a vision in yellow when the Tour de France leaves Utrecht, having crushed his rivals while recording the fastest average speed for an individual time trial in Tour de France history.

The result was surprising, but no huge shock. The 55.446km per hour generated by the BMC rider over a 14km flat city-centre course, however, certainly was. Dennis's time was quicker than that of all before him, including the previous record holder, Chris Boardman, who won the 1994 prologue in Lille.

Having elected an early start, Dennis was the second of nine BMC riders to come under starter's orders and endured what must have felt like an eternity under the gaze of cameras in the stage leader's hot-seat.

Dennis's main rivals - Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin, Alex Dowsett, Tom Dumoulin - were among the 160 riders to depart the starter's hut in his wake and fail dismally in their efforts to make their rival sweat.

"It was my goal to do well," said Dennis, on finishing his ride. "It was pretty smooth. It was very long on the way home. I kept thinking 16 minutes because that was my time at training. In the end, I got a one-minute bonus."

This was not Dennis's first record-breaking solo ride this year. In February, he set an hour record of 52.491km per hour, which was subsequently beaten by Dowsett and Bradley Wiggins, and had his eye on victory in this stage, having liked the cut of the course's jib from his early reconnaissance missions. "I checked the course twice but with the traffic," he said.

On a perfect day for time-trialling, hot but not prohibitively, with little breeze, Daniel Teklehaimanot was first down the ramp to get this Tour de France under way on a city-centre course that could scarcely have been more straightforward.

It's multiple bends were sweeping rather than sharp and, in the course of becoming the first black African rider to participate in the Tour de France, the Eritrean will need to make fuller use of his brakes, gears and bike-handling skills in the days and weeks ahead.

Winning in a time of 14min 56sec, Dennis was the only rider from the 198 starters to break 15 minutes and will ruminate at length on the ease of his win against a field of top-class opposition.

If a second is a long time in time trialling, five is an eternity and it is no surprise that Martin was disappointed to finish once again as a Tour de France time trial also-ran.

"I'm very, very disappointed," he said. "I wanted to win. Any other result is a bad one. I feel that I couldn't handle the heat, especially in the second half where I felt weaker. It was hot but that's the Tour de France, and this time trial wasn't long enough for me."

While none of the four main favourites were expected to triumph yesterday, Vincenzo Nibali, the defending champion, landed the first early jab, finishing 43 seconds behind Dennis and seven ahead of Chris Froome. Alberto Contador was a further eight seconds back, while Nairo Quintana, the fourth member of this quartet of big-hitters, was another 46 seconds off the pace. None will be even remotely perturbed.

Nibali's Astana team-mate Lars Boom, who was controversially starting the Tour despite showing low cortisol levels in tests, had an outside chance of victory, but eventually finished 23rd, 44 seconds behind Dennis. "I did not have the best preparation," the Dutchman said.

For 25-year old Dennis, who won January's Tour Down Under on home turf, before setting the hour record, winning the opening stage of the Tour de France caps a remarkable year.

Dennis will be confident of keeping his yellow jersey for the week ahead, with the support of a young and hungry team which has recently been linked with Froome's Team Sky lieutenant Richie Porte and which harbours decent general classification podium hopes in the form of American Tejay van Garderen.

Having last won the Tour in 2011, courtesy of Dennis's compatriot Cadel Evans, the pressure is already off after just 14 minutes and 56 seconds of this year's renewal.


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