'I would starve myself': Cycling star on his darkest days
World champion Rohan Dennis has parked his Grand Tour aspirations to focus on his strengths with new team Ineos after revealing pressure to get to that level and stress last season led to a dangerous battle with his weight.
The 29-year-old told The Advertiser there were days he would feel guilty for eating or drinking and then virtually starve himself in a bid to shed weight but it was having a negative impact on his ability to even train.
He got down to 68kg leading into the world championships in September which he says was also due to the stress of being in contract limbo before producing a herculean ride to defend his rainbow jersey by over a minute.
Dennis then secured a two-year contract with the biggest team in the world Ineos which boasts three Tour de France winners and will allow him to focus on time trials - including the Tokyo Olympics and world championships - and week-long stage races like this month's Tour Down Under.
He had previously said he would like to follow the path taken by Bradley Wiggins who went from time trialling specialist to Grand Tour contender and won the Tour de France, but says that may be putting unrealistic demands on himself.
On the eve of the national championships starting with the time trial in Ballarat on Wednesday, Dennis said he realised he was heading down a dangerous path last season trying to morph into a three-week Grand Tour rider.
"Last year I was thinking 'you know what? it's probably something that physically I can do - be a Grand Tour rider - and I have the capabilities," he said.
"But I just don't know if I want to go down the road, and I'll be honest with you, I started to eat and not eat and was on that slippery slope of a complex or disorder.
"I would end up starving myself then bonking at training, and I said 'it's not worth it, what am I doing?'
"I pulled the reins on that a fair bit earlier last year, it's not worth having a disorder.
"I am not someone who is naturally really skinny. I'm not a big guy either but I do put on weight fairly quickly when it comes to cycling and bulk up quite easily compared to guys like (Egan) Bernal and these pure climbers.
"I'm not sure if it's really worth going through the stress of trying to match that. I'm more comfortable with still having a life off the bike and being the best in the world at something (time trialling).
"One week races and TT's I'm going to continue to focus on."
Dennis said he turned to a nutritionist and a new app which monitored his eating to help rebuild him before the world championships.
"It got to a point where I was putting on weight, I would have one beer but then feel guilty and wouldn't eat at training the next day, so then I couldn't train properly, I wouldn't do a good session, eat minimal and bonk again," he said.
"Then you think you're shit, you feel down and you keep going.
"I got down to 68kg just before worlds but that was due to stress, and I was eating between 100 and 300g of chocolate every night on top of all my other food.
"I ended up having to get on creatine and whey protein powder to bring me back up to my time trial weight which is 70-71kg.
"I'm still lean at that weight but I'm not looking in the mirror and thinking 'you're too skinny', and that's where I was at before worlds."
"To combat that added stress and weight loss issues I had during the year I would periodically get in contact with my mate David Dunne. He is a nutritionist and worked closely with the Great Britain team pre-Rio Olympics.
"I happily tried out his new app called HEXIS which let him also monitor my eating habits to give me the best possible advice for training and preparing for my main goals."
Now in a strong and positive mindset with his new team and in a new environment, Dennis said he was excited by the challenge of trying to win an Olympic gold medal and world title in the same year in 2020.
But he is also wary of the pressures of the sport at the top level.
"I think a lot of the time it's looked at as a privileged position and as sportspeople we are," he said.
"But a lot of people ignore the fact that it's a high pressure situation, we are humans, we're not in a circus show where you pay to watch and you can laugh if we screw it up."
Dennis steps out for the first time in Ineos colours in the 37.7km race against the clock on Wednesday where he is up against reigning national champion Luke Durbridge.
Durbridge spearheads Mitchelton-Scott's hopes alongside former champion Michael Hepburn, Damien Howson and Callum Scotson.
"I'm looking forward to the nationals. I had three good hit-outs at the Bay Crits which I always like to do before the nationals," Durbridge said.
"I'm feeling good for the time trial, I always love the nationals and I take great pride racing here. I like to just get out there and give it a go.
"For me, defending my title would be fantastic. I've got some stiff competition with Rohan Dennis as the world champion, but last year he was also world champion and I just gave it a good crack and it worked out alright. I'm looking forward to the challenge."