DRUMHELLER, Alberta (VN) — Garmin-Sharp came into the Tour of Alberta with a pair of young Australians who had just finished two other North American stage races. One had considerable podium time. The other was just sort of there.
In a matter of one day, things changed.
After Friday’s third stage of the inaugural Canadian stage race, the two were headed in opposite directions, literally and figuratively. Lachlan Morton, 21, the best young rider at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and Colorado’s USA Pro Challenge, was walking gingerly in street clothes from the finish line to the team bus. He had injured his knee and abandoned after only 14 kilometers.
His 23-year-old teammate, Rohan Dennis, had won the stage and was heading to the podium to put on the yellow jersey. Although he had entered the day second on the general classification to Peter Sagan (Cannondale), having finished 13 seconds behind Sagan in the prologue, he had accepted the general peloton consensus that the Slovakian star could run the table and win every stage.
“Yes. Even I said that,” he told VeloNews. “I knew I had the form to perform in the prologue. I really thought it was a pretty straightforward race. Peter Sagan was able to sprint and get over climbs in Utah and Colorado, and I thought the climbs were nowhere near the difficulty.”
They weren’t. But the feared Alberta winds, which had been mostly cooperative in the first two road stages, roared in and blew the race apart from almost the start. Echelons formed, the pack split into groups, and suddenly the race that wasn’t supposed to be, was.
Aided by teammates David Millar and Fabian Wegemann, Dennis made the breaks, found his way into the eventual lead group, and outkicked Brent Bookwalter (BMC) and Damiano Caruso (Cannondale) for the win and yellow.
“Things really took a complete back flip, you could say,” Dennis said. “It wasn’t exactly my goal to come here and win the overall, because I thought it was out of my reach.”
His previous wins had mostly been in national time trials or under-23 races, although he announced himself earlier this season with a second-place finish in the Criterium du Dauphine time trial — behind only world champion Tony Martin and ahead of eventual Tour de France winner Chris Froome — and the best young rider’s jersey. Then came an abandon after eight stages of his first Tour de France and anonymous rides in the Classica San Sebastian, Utah and Colorado.
Friday, still wired from the excitement of yellow — plus, a real dinosaur bone for the stage win — he plotted how to remain calm for Saturday’s hilly stage in the foothills around the start/finish town of Black Diamond and Sunday’s run into Calgary.
“I’m trying to think of ways to control that sort of energy,” he said. “There’s no need to go into a race and try to prove myself anymore. I just need to defend, and let the rest of the team use their energy up.”
“Yes, I know that does sound quite harsh, telling them to just kill themselves each day for me. But … finally,” he added, smiling. “It’s great having guys with a lot of experience on the team. I’m going to let them take on the pressure. There’s no need for me to.”
For a change.