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Dennis shows off his Tour de France potential Down Under

ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Big rides only raise expectations. BMC Racing’s brass are so impressed with their young Australian prospect Rohan Dennis they have already penciled him in for a possible Tour de France start this summer.

Up first is an hour record attempt February 8 in Switzerland, but BMC has big plans for the 24-year-old from Adelaide.

“We’re not going to throw him into the Giro this year,” BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz told VeloNews Friday morning. “After his hour record attempt, he’ll step back a bit, and we’ll ease him back into racing with some stage races. We’ll see about the Tour, but he’s on our long list.”

Dennis confirmed his rising stock with a dazzling victory Thursday to snag the leader’s jersey at the Santos Tour Down Under. The 24-year-old bolted to victory ahead of soon-to-be-retired BMC teammate Cadel Evans, and he safely defended the leader’s jersey Friday to take the pole position going into Saturday’s decisive finale up Willunga Hill.

“Rohan is a huge talent. He can do it all,” Ochowicz continued. “We’re excited to see how far he can go. It’s not easy finding GC-caliber riders. Not a lot of riders can climb and time trial. And he likes to talk. He’s definitely not shy.”

It’s that mix of brashness, explosiveness, and aggression that so energizes Ochowicz and others at BMC.

With Evans set to retire next week, the team has been quietly working behind the scenes to make the Australian’s exit from the squad as smooth and seamless as possible.

The team already elevated Tejay van Garderen as the outright Tour de France captain in 2014, and will be backing him again this July to improve on his fifth-place overall result last year.

The team is clearly grooming Dennis for bigger and better things. Midway through last season, they manufactured a rare, mid-season transfer for Dennis from Garmin-Sharp.

BMC believes Dennis has the goods to go far. He made his Tour debut with the Garmin organization in 2013 following an impressive Critérium du Dauphiné, where he punched into the top-10 as a neo-pro. A possible run at the Vuelta a España could be in the cards later this season as well.

Close links to Allan Peiper, who left Garmin after 2013 to join BMC as sporting manager last season, proved critical as BMC bought Dennis out of his Garmin contract.

“He’s an exciting prospect,” Peiper said at a BMC camp last month. “He’s one of those riders who seems to get better every day in a stage race. He seems to have that rare ‘de grande classe’ that is hard to find. He’s got everything to become a grand tour rider.”

Dennis certainly has the ingredients to become a grand tour contender. He can climb, he can attack, and his time trial credentials are already proven. And even more important, he has the killer instinct to win races.

“He’s got everything to be a grand tour rider. He’s an angry young man,” Peiper said with a laugh. “You need that tenacity as a rider. It’s not kindergarten. It’s war when you go to a race, and you need to be strong to rise above that adversity. They’re all good signs.”

Signing Dennis is part of an overall youth movement at BMC. Other veteran riders have left the team, including Thor Hushovd and Samuel Sánchez, with Evans retiring next month.

Evans’ departure leaves a big hole in the team’s roster, but Peiper and Ochowicz have been planning for that transition. The team is clearly betting on the future.

“Losing Cadel is a void we cannot fill overnight,” Peiper said. “Sporting wise, we’ve worked on the future to replace him, so maybe we need to move our goals into other races with younger riders, while waiting for other GC riders to come along.”

In the short term, the team will lean on new recruit Damiano Caruso to fill the gap at such races as the Giro and Vuelta, with van Garderen focusing on the Tour for 2015. Dennis will be waiting in the wings.

For the immediate here and now, Dennis is poised to win the Tour Down Under, with the decisive two-climb stage up Willunga Hill on tap Saturday.

“Our goal is to get both Cadel and me on the podium as one and two. There is no definite leader,” Dennis said Friday. “What we want to do is strive to be one and two at the finish, and try to pull off the team classification. The one thing in cycling is that you have to risk everything to win everything. It is risky, but it is definitely possible.”

Those kinds of words are music to the ears of BMC management.