Dennis claims crushing win in World Championships Elite Men’s ITT

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Rohan Dennis claimed a knock-out victory for Australia in the UCI World Championships Elite Men’s Individual Time Trial on Wednesday, comfortably pushing defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) into silver. Belgium’s Victor Campanaerts, just half a second slower than Dumoulin, claimed the bronze.

A winner of six time trials this year, including two in the recent Vuelta a España, together with Dumoulin the 28-year-old from Adelaide was one of two big pre-race favourites. And Dennis duly delivered, crossing the time trial’s finish line in Innsbruck with a crushing margin of 1 minute 21 over his rival from the Netherlands.

A demanding 52.1 kilometre time trial test consisting of a lengthy, flat opening segment out of the start town of Rattenberg,  a brutally tough five kilometre  climb to Gnadenwald and finally a rolling, technical descent to the finish in front of Innsbruck’s Hofburg Imperial palace, Dennis proved more than capable of dominating the field and course  on all three, very different, types of terrain. 

Riding  – like all of the 61 starters – in warm, dry conditions and the fastest in all the intermediate time splits, Dennis later explained that knowing he had a hefty advantage on the top of the mid-course Gnadenwald climb on Dumoulin gave him a timely morale boost.

“I was being coached from the team car by [former professional] Brad McGee, and he gave me confidence at the top of the climb,” Dennis later related.

“Once Dumoulin was through Brad told me I was a minute up and he kept me calm. I was considering a bit of a victory salute but I wanted to make sure – you’re never sure until Tom crosses the line.”

Although Dennis appreciated that  morale boost from his team director in the car, Dennis revealed he had hard data, too, to keep him motivated.

“I knew the power [output] we rode [produced] in [Sunday’s] TTT,” – where his trade team, BMC Racing, took bronze –  “where we lost 19 seconds on the winners. I held higher power up the hill than I did in the TTT, and I knew Dumoulin had been pushing hard in the TTT, so I had a good idea of what power I needed to hold him. I think it was a 35 seconds gap at bottom and at the top I was fairly confident that I’d at least done the same time as him.”

Visually, one key indication that Dennis was putting in a stunning performance came when he roared past Spain’s Jonathan Castroviejo –  a bronze medallist in Doha’s World Championships two years ago, and who began the Innsbruck course 90 seconds ahead –  close to the summit of the Gnadewald.

An even more encouraging sign for Dennis then came when he hurtled past 2015 World Champion Vasil Kiryenka, a starter three minutes before him, almost within sight of the line. Once Dennis finished, averaging 49.6 kmh and comfortably ahead of the previous best time set by Campanaerts, his  big grin as he slowed down then hugged Australian team staff said he knew what he had achieved.

“I’ve never won it in any age group, I’ve been after this since I was a junior, so to win my first one in the seniors is pretty special,” Dennis, eighth last year in Bergen, argued.

The last rider to start, Dumoulin’s disappointment was palpable as he slowed to a halt at the  finish and learned from team staff that Dennis had succeeded him as World Champion. What made it harder to take, perhaps, was that Dumoulin had looked to be in great shape as he pounded alongside the River Inn in the opening, flatter early section, to the point where he had only lost nine seconds on Dennis at the first checkpoint at km 16.6. 

A gifted climber, Dumoulin was widely expected to pull back time on Dennis on the sweeping, broad curves  and 14 percent ramps of the mid-race ascent to Gnadenwald. But whereas Dennis went from strength to strength, Dumoulin had  lost over a minute on his Australian arch-rival by the summit, and with it any hope of repeating his 2017 triumph.

On the final 17 kilometres, mainly downhill,  Dumoulin’s main concern was more racing strongly enough to ensure he finished ahead of Victor Campanaerts for bronze. Overall, the European TT Champion put on a brilliantly consistent display on Wednesday, coming within just half a second of beating Dumoulin into silver.

The five kilometre mid-race climb to Gnadenwald proved to be a real game-changer, as early pacesetters like former multiple World Champion Tony Martin (Germany), Kiryenka and Switzerland’s Stefan Kung struggled badly to maintain their initial fast pace on the much steeper slopes.

Instead riders able to handle the abrupt change in gradient better,  like Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland), finally a distant fourth behind Campanaerts at 2-04, Nelson Oliveira (Portugal), in fifth at 2-14, and Castroviejo, sixth at 2-17, moved ahead  on the leaderboard. On the day, though, Dennis proved to be unmatchable.

After the Elite Men’s Individual Time Trial, the 2018 Road World Championships now continues through to Sunday 30th September with five mass start events. The first on Thursday, are the Junior Women’s and Junior Men’s Road Races.

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