Johnson: Aussie Rohan Dennis claims Tour of Alberta title
Team Garmin-Sharp rider conquers inaugural event, highlighting sport’s youth movement
Australian rider Rohan Dennis receives a couple of kisses after winning the Tour of Alberta on Sunday. He not only won the yellow jersey, he also claimed the white silks for Best Young Rider.
Photograph by: Colleen De Neve, Calgary Herald
Seems Team Garmin-Sharp manager Jonathan Vaughters made a fairly unorthodox pre-Tour of Alberta deal with his 23-year-old pedalling prodigy.
“It’s a funny story,” relayed Rohan Dennis, looking completely, utterly, at home in a yellow jersey — the pinnacle of chic in his world — only two days after first trying it on for size. “I wanted to get back to Europe before Worlds. I thought two months was going to be quite challenging, to be on the road.
“I asked if it was possible, he said it was. Just come in and win the prologue.
“I didn’t do that (finishing second, 13 seconds behind Slovakian star Peter Sagan). But in the end I won the overall. So I think he’s probably a little happier than what he thought he would be.”
Asked if he’d received a text from his boss, Dennis smiled in affirmation.
“Yeah, basically saying he knows how to motivate me now — just tell me he’s going to send me home.”
Novel, indisputably. But effective nonetheless.
The man to catch since a sizzling second stage triumph on Day 3 of the inaugural Tour of Alberta, the Adelaide-born Aussie put the finishing touches on a breakthrough week.
As he crossed the finish line on Centre St. and 4th Ave. in front of thousands of cycling fans and intrigued bystanders, Dennis ecstatically swung an imaginary lariat in the air.
Apropos for a guy who’d just dropped a lasso over his first major Tour victory.
“I didn’t expect this,” he admitted, cruise-controlling in with an 18-second advantage over American Brent Bookwalter of BMC Racing. “It feels pretty good, actually. It was a sprinter’s race and Peter Sagan has been performing really well in Utah and Colorado. It’s really a great honour to come home with a win.
“Hopefully I can come back next year and prepare for Worlds, trying to back up my win this year.”
On Sunday, shortly before the rains arrived, Slovakian Sagan of Cannondale added a third nugget to his Alberta tiara — having also won the prologue and first stage of the Tour — powering from half a dozen rivals and inside of Germany’s Robert Forster in typical swashbuckling style on the final corner of a four-lap downtown conclusion to overtake the UnitedHealthCare rider.
“When we come to the last turn, left, I went there without braking,” said Sagan of his. “Maybe he had a little bit of braking. I don’t know.”
Sagan, with seven-stage conquests in Grand Tours — three in the Vuelta a España and four in the Tour de France — is one of the sport’s emerging titans.
“I started racing at six years old,” he said. “And with the races, I start when I was nine years old. But I think you can’t learn this. You’re born with this. When you have fear you can’t do this.”
Sagan may not have conquered the event, but he did take home the Sprint Jersey title as well as the three stage wins, while Dutchman Tom Jelte Slagter of the Belkin team was crowned King of the Mountains.
For Bookwalter, this Tour, encapsulated by its champion, served to provide another example of the changing of the cycling guard.
“The young guys kind of rising up and taking the torch from the old guys isn’t a surprise. It’s been a theme this year. It’s been a theme within our team and it’s been a theme in Garmin, definitely. And for sure in the North American races its been the young guys stepping up and starting to take over the sport.
“For me, it’s a little strange to be one of the older guys, seeing guys from the ’90s come up. I think the sport is in a great position. It’s exciting to have a guy who won the overall winning the young riders jersey. It bodes well for the future.”
From any perspective, the Tour of Alberta would have to rate as a rousing success. Pre-event organizers had hoped to entice 300,000 spectators over the six-day event, and a final estimated figure, while unknown at the moment, surely exceeded that number. An estimated 50,000 lined the route and gathered downtown in Calgary on Sunday.
“I’m not too surprised,” said Spruce Grove-born Ryan Anderson, winner of the Best Canadian jersey honours for a stellar eighth overall placing. “Alberta’s always been known for getting behind its sporting events. The first year, I expected the crowds to be good and they were. Even along the way, all the schoolkids and everyone . . . it was fantastic.
“Being the first year of this race, and able to come and be on the podium for the last three days, in front of all the crowds, is something special for me. I was glad to be a part of this first year and take the Best Canadian Jersey,”
Bookwalter, too, predicts nothing but bigger and better things ahead for this stop.
“For me, personally,” said the 29-year-old, “it was probably one of the highlights of my career. I don’t get a lot of chances these days to ride GC or ride for results because we have a lot of big champions on our team and the support role is one I’m happy to fill.
“We don’t get enough chances to come back to our home continent and race. We’re in Europe most of the year, so it’s really nice to make the Euros come over here, make them go through the jet lag, make them go through the awkward phone calls to their families at weird times of the day. Kinda put them in that uncomfortable position that we’re in most of the year.
“So yeah, I was impressed with Alberta in general. Hopefully next year we can get up into the mountains maybe. I’ve heard really spectacular things about them. Great first-year race and I’m excited to come back again.”
Buffered by a veteran Garmin team, Dennis’s advantage as the pack departed at 1 p.m. from Seaman Stadium in Okotoks seemed insurmountable.
And so it proved to be.
He’d seized control in the Strathmore-to-Drumheller and, backed by the insulation of a veteran team, was never in any danger of giving up that yellow jersey that fit him so well.
“Straight away,” he said, “I knew we obviously had a really strong team with a lot of guys that can ride the flats and guys who can ride the hills at the same time. We had no doubt in our minds that we had the team, if there was anything dangerous we had the team to pull it back.
“You could say we rode a little bit cocky sometimes. But sometimes you have to put yourself out there and sort of show your power from the word go, sort of intimidate other teams.
“Show them that we are here for business.
“It’s been great.
“This race will always be close to me.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
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