Rohan Dennis on The Hour: “It’s a big step forward for me…”
Twenty hours after he blasted his way around the track in Grenchen to set a new mark for the prestigious Hour Record, Rohan Dennis was ready to leave Switzerland. Before he boarded a plane, he took a call from RIDE‘s editor, Rob Arnold, and had a chat about what had happened the previous evening.
Many stories will emerge from his accomplishments and the analysis of an extraordinary ride will go on for years to come but some things that were revealed during our discussion are bits of trivia – like how the smell of sausages helped distract him from the pain, or how the power output on the velodrome eclipsed his effort when he was fifth in the world championship time trial, or how the average cadence for the hour was 105rpm…
Click the SoundCloud file to listen to the exchange and/or read the transcript below to find out more of what Rohan Dennis had to say about one amazing hour…
Rohan Dennis after the 52.491km Hour
RIDE: I’m talking with Rohan Dennis a little bit less than a day after he went out and rode an hour on the track in Grenchen and set a new world record – he became the first Australian to set an hour record, 52.491 kilometres. Is that a new tattoo for you?
Rohan Dennis: “Ha, nah… I don’t think I’ll get a tattoo because it will more than likely, sometime in my life, go down. I’ll try to get something that won’t be taken off me. Obviously, I am proud of it but maybe that’s going a little bit too far.”
I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m smiling. I’m still sort of buzzing from the whole concept of what you’ve done. Does it resonate with you? Do you recognise the accomplishment?
“Not so much at the moment. Obviously it was a huge bonus for me and I was super happy – I am super happy – but I don’t really think it will sink in for a while because it’s a weird thing.
“It might not even sink in until I actually retire and I look back on my career and realise what I have achieved. It’s one of those sort of things.
“Obviously I’ve got a huge amount of people congratulating me on social media and that has hit home a little bit but it’s one of those things that I think I’m going to appreciate more when I retire than what I do now.”
And the actual experience…? I was at Jack Bobridge’s [hour record attempt] and that left a big impact on me. I was surprised to see you even unclip from your pedals let alone lift your bike aloft afterwards. Can you explain how all of that was for you – the finish?
“Obviously I was hurting at the finish and there’s no doubt about that but what I did was a completely different effort to what Jack did. My pacing wasn’t quite perfect – I probably still did go out a little bit too hard. It was that fine line; I was just pushing it a little bit in the first half. But Jack went in the red zone fairly early and he was red zone for more than half of the actual ‘race’.
“He had built up and built up and built up… and he did it a lot earlier so it was a lot more pain whereas mine was a sustained effort and it just slowly bit in towards the end.
“Obviously breaking the record does keep you a little bit happier and you can sort of squeeze that little bit more energy out to lift your bike up or smile or get off your bike – that always plays a part – but I think the fact that I didn’t hit my red zone until later on, about 15 minutes to go, probably helped a lot.”
When you took the drink at the finish, it took you a little while to take a swig of it. Were you dry? Were you empty? What was the sensation like? Because I saw what Jack was like and he was completely destroyed…
“It was one of those drink bottles that, when you squeeze it, the lid closes. I was trying to get it out but it was the whole… I had to pull it and make sure I was holding it open while I was actually squeezing it in my mouth getting that fluid.
“I remember about 40 minutes in, all I was wanting – what went through my head is: ‘I need a drink. I wish I had a drink bottle on my bike right now.’ And also, ‘I wish they weren’t cooking sausage in the middle [of the track] – because I can smell it and the coffee as well.’
“That was one thing I was craving during and afterwards… not so much the food, afterwards I was feeling a little bit sick – you could say – but I was wanting a little bit of fluid. Like you said, your mouth gets pretty dry after an hour.”
So the smell really did mess with your mind a bit?
“Oh, it made me want to pull up. It made me feel like I was at a Christmas barbecue or something… and I could just pull up and have a sausage on a piece of bread. It was one of those things I was wishing they didn’t actually have going but it probably kept my mind a little bit fresher and not worrying about the race so much and it was something that distracted me from the pain.”
You’d said before the ride that you wanted to “zone out”. What sort of things do you do to zone out? Do you focus on a rhythm – a music beat or something? Do you count your pedal strokes? What do you do when you’re going round and round?
“It’s sort of a funny thing; you get in this zone where, obviously, you know where you put the pressure down on the pedals on the track – at what points and at what points you go a little bit easier. It sort of becomes, you could say, sort of a trance.
“On every lap, at the exact same point – obviously on opposite sides of the track, so it’s twice a lap – you’re just doing the same thing over and over… it’s just repetitive and you zone out because your body just gets into that routine…
“Once a lap as well, I’ll look at my schedule… it’s that constant routine but your mind is switched off at the same time. It’s a bit of a weird feeling actually.
“In the first half, especially, it’s almost boring – dare I say that.
“Obviously, you have to not think about it and go, ‘Okay, I can go harder,’ because that’s when you can get in trouble.”
We could see in the last 10 laps there was a couple of red line moments when you did drift up the track a little bit and, for want of a better word, you looked a bit… ah, drunken. You know what I mean? All the rest of the way you were so stable but up past 200 [laps] there were a couple of wayward moments. Did you ever feel like, ‘Whoa! What’s going on here?’ What happened when you went up to that red line?
“It was more that I was trying to get the power out and I was trying to get comfortable on my handlebars and saddle. Really. And it just threw me off.
“Obviously, when you’re a little bit buckled and on the edge, you can’t just put up with a certain spot on the saddle for an extra couple of seconds. You want to move and get comfortable and try and make it as easy as possible. And, by doing that, you actually throw yourself off a little bit when it comes to the bends – or even the straights.
“It’s something that if I did it again I’d probably have to work on and make sure I don’t waste that energy – or that distance as well – because it’s going to add up a little bit over the hour but more so in the last 15 minutes.
“Our goal was 52.5 and I missed out by nine [metres]… I was like, ‘Damn it!’
“But [the adjustments] were more about trying to reposition and it throws you off a little bit and obviously your body is shaking a little bit as well from what you’re putting it through.”
And I only reference it because otherwise it was a sublime ride. You looked on the black line the whole time. It looked like, on turn two, you liked to do a little bit of a slingshot effect and on the apex of the turn you drifted up a bit… but only on that turn. Is that correct?
“Yeah… ah, every lap or turn two?”
Yeah. It seemed that way… you just drifted up [off] the black line and then came out of the turn. I’m not sure if I was seeing it the right way…
“I probably did a couple of times but it wasn’t on purpose.
“I was just trying to get around the bends as smooth as possible and sometimes I probably drifted up to the red a little bit as I came onto the back straight or what-not. But it definitely wasn’t on purpose.”
Okay. You would have had a look at your data… I’d hope. Can you give us a little synopsis of that? Please…
“You know us cyclists, we like to keep numbers out of the media a little bit but it was definitely higher than the worlds on the road in Ponferrada – and that’s a huge bonus. And, considering there’s no time to freewheel or get your breath back, to be able to actually hit a higher number than the worlds – and for longer and at a higher cadence… it was a 105 [rpm] cadence average. It’s a huge step forward for me.
“Usually, towards the end of a TT, I’ll be pushing in the 80s just trying to keep the gear rolling so to be able to average 105 cadence at threshold for an hour… um, it’s a big step forward for me.”
What was your race weight before and, I guess, did you weigh yourself after [the hour] to see what it did to you?
“No, I didn’t weigh myself before and after but I know I was about 73 kilo. I’m holding a little bit more weight this year, in January/February, than normal – and that’s probably due to all the strength work and track work I’ve been doing leading into this.
“At drug testing, I was a little bit dehydrated but I don’t think I would have lost much more… well, maybe a kilo or two. It was pretty warm [inside] the track by the end of it.
“It was 26.8 degrees, I think, which is probably a little bit warm.”
What else should I be asking you? You go through that experience… tell me what’s impacted you the most? How are your legs today? What’s your body feel like? I’m not sure… this is a unique event and a unique range of questions.
“The pain in my legs is a normal thing. I’m fairly used to that. It’s not anything new. Obviously it does hurt, there’s no doubt about that but a Grand Tour – or a [stage race] in general, or even a time trial – I get the same sort of feeling.
“I think it’s more that I probably won’t be able to sit on the saddle for a couple of days. To be blunt… that was probably one of the worst things about it.”
Just a generic saddle sore or…?
“Sitting in the saddle and spinning at 105rpm without moving – no matter how good your chamois, saddle… anything is, it’s going to do some damage for sure. It’s going to happen.
“That’s more so the thing I need to [overcome].
“Obviously mentally there has been a big build up to this so I’m going to have to take probably a week or so off – or not ‘off’ but to relax a bit and reset the head and get ready for my actual ‘proper job’ of road racing.”
You assured me that, after the  Olympics, you wouldn’t get back on the track. You are back on the track. Is there a temptation to do more? To aim for Rio or do something like that?
“Ah, there’s a small technicality there. I didn’t tell you ‘track racing’… [I told you] ‘teams pursuit’. To be honest.
“This, obviously, is track racing and I have been on the track but it’s not what I was doing before.
“I’m not looking at going back to the track for the teams pursuit or an Olympic event or even a worlds event.
“The hour record, at the moment, is the only thing I’ll aim for on the track in the near future… or not even probably in the ‘near future’. I’m probably going to wait until later in my career to have another go at it. Obviously that can change – the whole track situation – but I don’t think I’ll be going back any time soon.
“Maybe at the end of my career, I might try and finish off with a track race just to sort of finish where I started but I’m not looking back.”
We saw a grand promotion for BMC. I think that some special commentary needs to go out to Andy Rihs who has been a big supporter of Australian cycling. He’s a larger than life character with a larger than life budget… can you just talk to me about what influence he had on you personally?
“Personally, he’s been a huge backer since I met him. I didn’t meet him until December  at our training camp. But since the day I met him he’s always been there to support me and I’m not saying that he’s going to throw money at me or anything but he’s always there to give me encouragement and basically just back me to what goals I’ve got on my agenda.
“The hour record wasn’t ‘free’. We – or BMC and Andy – put a lot of money into promoting it and just actually giving me the opportunity to have a go at breaking the record. So that in itself is a lot, let alone the actual support he’s given me wage and contract wise… that’s huge.
“I’ve really got to take my hat off to him. I’ve thanked him numerous times but I don’t think I’ve thanked him enough and I feel like I still have to repay him in some way by getting results all year and not just pulling it up now and going, ‘Oh, it’s been a good year – anyone will be happy with this sort of season’.
“I still feel like I owe him a lot for what he’s done – for not just myself but for the team in general.”
…Is there an incentive, a bonus scheme, for you lifting bikes as you walk onto podiums [as he did after the final stage of the Tour Down Under] or after you finish an hour record?
“Ha. There’s no bonus scheme but that’s one little thing that I like to do for Andy – like I said, just repaying him with those little things and showing off the product and the sponsor always helps not just us but the sport in general.
“Sport relies on sponsors and if we didn’t have them we wouldn’t be doing it – well, we probably would be but it would probably be a lot harder for all of us. So, to help the sponsor out is one thing that’s high on the agenda, for sure.”
Hey Rohan, that’s our time limit so thanks for having a chat. It’s great to catch up with you. Congratulations on what you did and I hope you pull up alright.
“Thanks Rob, appreciate it.”