Cycling is full of such weird stories throughout its history that it takes something pretty special to move the needle. On Thursday, the needle broke.
Rohan Dennis, the reining world time trial champion, was racing through Stage 12 from Toulouse when he simply disappeared from the race. It took some time before a race official confirmed Dennis had abandoned the Tour de France. His bike was eventually spotted propped up against his team bus near the finish line.
There had been concerns that Dennis had vanished entirely in the “did he get abducted by aliens?” sense, following a vague tweet from Team Bahrain-Merida that didn’t explain where the cyclist was. Thankfully, Dennis was confirmed to still be on Earth, when he was seen leaving the bus later in the stage, clearly looking angry.
#TDF2019— Team Bahrain Merida (@Bahrain_Merida) July 18, 2019
Our priority is the welfare of all our riders so will launch an immediate investigation but will not be commenting further until we have established what has happened to @RohanDennis.
Meantime we continue to support our riders who are mid-race.
The cycling world is now wondering what caused Dennis to quit. This isn’t a case of a cyclist not being able to handle the conditions. He’s not a random cyclist, he’s one of the best in the world, and while climbing stages like Thursday’s aren’t his forte, Dennis was only 5 minutes, 41 seconds behind on the general classification entering Stage 12. The answer could lie inside reports of extenuating circumstances at the 2019 Tour that could have made the situation untenable for Dennis.
Did illness factor in?
The biggest wild card of the Dennis incident is whether or not he has fallen ill. A stomach bug has hit several cyclists in the peloton, and there have been unconfirmed reports that Team Bahrain-Merida riders were starting to succumb too. Eurosport’s Sophie Smith spoke to Dennis before the stage, and while he appeared to indicate one of his teammates was falling ill, he didn’t give any indication that quitting was on his mind.
Australian Rohan Dennis has abandoned the #tdf19, race organiser confirms. Cause currently unknown. Spoke to him this morning and he said Vincenzo Nibali wasn’t 100 per cent but talked about his own ITT chances tomorrow as if he’d be there. #sbstdf— Sophie Smith (@SophieSmith86) July 18, 2019
Was he fighting with team officials?
A French TV station reported Thursday that Dennis was involved in a shouting match with a Team Bahrain-Merida official shortly following Stage 12 after he withdrew from the Tour. Up to this point there haven’t been indications he was at odds with Team Bahrain-Merida, but evidently there was a disagreement that took place following his withdrawal.
It’s unclear whether this disagreement was because of him leaving, or due to something else surrounding the tour.
What happens now?
We don’t fully know what happened outside of a statement from the team, which didn’t really clear things up.
“We are also confused. Let’s say I am disappointed with what happened with Rohan today because we expected a big effort from him tomorrow,” Stangelj said. “It was his decision to stop at the feed zone. We try to speak with him. We stop with the car and try to find a solution — what is going on — he said I don’t want to talk and he abandon the race.”
Dennis quitting the Tour de France could have a domino effect on the field. Friday’s time trial stage is now wide open, with numerous riders standing to benefit from his absence.
Geraint Thomas, Tony Martin, Simon Yates, Adam Yates, and USA’s Chad Haga, all contenders for the time trial, now have a much easier race without Dennis in the field.
Team Bahrain-Merida has been struggling in the Tour de France so far, and losing a star rider just before his day to shine only makes it much, much worse.