As the Tour de France geared up on Friday for an individual time trial which could have a major say on the destination of this year’s maillot jaune, talk at the race continued to centre on a man who was one of the favourites to win it but will now not be riding.
Rohan Dennis’ decision to quit the Tour abruptly on Thursday, climbing off his bike at the official feed zone after about 80km of stage 12 from Toulouse to Bagneres-de-Bigorre, remained a mystery.
The Australian’s team, Bahrain-Merida, had suggested on Thursday that the issue was not physical, with sports director Gorazd Stangelj telling media he was “confused” and “disappointed” by the world time trial champion’s actions.
"It has nothing to do with his physical condition," Stangelj said. "[Dennis] is a special guy, like all the champions are. He is really 100 per cent when he wants something and it’s difficult to make everybody happy in every single moment."
Dennis has yet to explain himself. After being taken to the finish in the car of a team masseur, he spent an hour or so on the Bahrain-Merida bus before leaving with his agent and the team’s media officer on either side without offering comment. A statement released by him overnight did little to shed light on the reasons behind his walkout.
"I am very disappointed to leave the race at this point,” Dennis said. “The individual time trial had been a big goal for me and the team, but given my current feeling it was the right decision to withdraw earlier today.
"I wish my teammates the very best for the remainder of the race and would like to thank all the Tour de France fans who cheered for me, at home and on the roadside, since Brussels. I will hopefully be back competing in this great race again over the coming seasons."
Dennis does have a reputation as a hothead, and there are rumours that he was unhappy with his TT kit and his team. He was seen arguing with team staff before the start of Thursday's stage.
Another clue for his behaviour may lie in an interview he did with the Stanley Street Social podcast in January when he alluded to mental health issues.
"To this day, there are times when I think 'what the hell am I doing?'", Dennis told the podcast. "In 2018 I reckon there were half a dozen times when I thought 'I could quit – right now’ and January last year was the big one... I did not want to race my bike ever again. I was over this sport.
"But after a while you snap out of it and maybe it’s a bit of a depressed period, for a week or something, then you realise why you like it again.
"I have these little periods when things aren’t going well, across the board, sometimes it’s a bit tough. It’s the same with every job... you’re bashing your head against the wall 'what am I doing? what am I doing?’
"Eventually that wall shows a crack and you’re 'that’s why I’m doing it', but I still go through those periods."