South Australian Luke Roberts, 28, will join the Australian contingent contesting this year's Tour de France, bringing to ten the total number of Australians confirmed in the starting line-up. A three time team pursuit World Champion and a member of the Athens Olympic Games quartet that won gold in World Record time, Roberts was advised overnight that he will fill the ninth and final place for the Danish registered CSC team in this year's event.
"My first reaction was excitement and then nerves as it began to sink in," said Roberts from his European base in Cologne, Germany. "My team director Bjarne Riis told me a month ago that he wanted me to get ready for the Tour and set my training program accordingly but he wasn't promising me I'd go.
"He basically said 'I want to have you ready in case others don't shape up' so I did everything right and made every effort I could to try and win selection," explained Roberts who realised it would come down to a choice between him and Danish teammate Jakob Piil. "Jakob has been up and down all season with illness and injury, but when we rode the Team Time Trial in Eindhoven on June 19 he put in a really strong ride, so last week I was struggling a bit with morale thinking I might not go."
But Riis told Roberts he would not make his decision until after Sunday's Danish Championships where Piil would be given a final chance to earn selection. "I fought on with my training because I decided I'd rather be 100 percent fit and not go at the last minute and then get a late call up and not have done everything possible to be ready for the race," said Roberts. "Unfortunately for Jakob he didn't have a great race on the weekend and he crashed as well, but that opened the door for me to be selected."
Roberts is understandably chuffed that in his first year with the ProTour team he has earned a start in the world's most famous bike race. "It seems that over the past 12 months all my dreams are coming true," he said. "First the Olympics, I signed with one of biggest teams in the world, I got to race in some of the biggest races on the calendar [Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix] and now I get to do the Tour de France!"
One of the first people Roberts called to relay the good news was fellow South Australian Stuart O'Grady, 31, who will line up with Cofidis for his ninth Tour. "He was rapt and congratulated me on the achievement," said Roberts. "He said he didn't know whether to say 'well done' or 'welcome to the pain and you don't know what you're getting yourself into' but I don't expect it to be a holiday."
Roberts main role will be to look after the team's two best hopes for overall honours in Italian Ivan Basso who was third overall in 2004 and Spaniard Carlos Sastre who was eighth overall last year. "Plus the team time trial will be a very important stage and a key one for me," said Roberts. "I have ten years of experience in teams pursuit and training on the road in team time trial so it comes as second nature. But when we hit the mountains I'll be going into survival mode," Roberts laughed.
The full line-up of confirmed Australian starters for the 2005 Tour de France is:
Simon Gerrans (VIC)
Michael Rogers, 25 (ACT)
Cadel Evans, 28, (VIC)
Robbie McEwen, 33, (QLD)
Francaise des Jeux:
Brad McGee, 29, (NSW)
Baden Cooke, 26, (VIC)
Luke Roberts, 28, (SA)
Stuart O'Grady, 31, (SA)
Matt White, 31, (NSW)
Allan Davis, 24, (QLD)