Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge) will make his debut at the Tour of Flanders this weekend. The young Australian has been a consistent performer in the team over the last few years and finally earned his call-up to the year’s second monument.
"I’m pretty excited. Well, I am and I’m not. It’s a bit of a scary race, but I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully I can use De Panne as well to bring me up that little bit more and get me in some good condition for Sunday," a happy Durbridge told Cyclingnews after signing on at the opening stage of the three days of De Panne.
The former dual Australian road and time trial champion is in good form, but he realistic about his and the team’s chances on Sunday. "For sure it will be a steep learning curve. I don’t think I can put my hand up and say that I can do this, this and this. Maybe I’d like to get into the breakaway, up the road and away from all the carnage," he says. "We’ve got guys like Daryl Impey, who is coming in for the race, and Jens Keukeleire for that sort of parcours. We don’t have a real favourite, so have to take our chances and get in breakaways and get up the road."
"You have to keep doing these races more and more, to get good condition and learn the road. Hopefully in the future I can continue getting better and one day maybe get on the podium in these races."
Durbridge will also ride Paris-Roubaix this spring, getting a little more notice than he got for his participation last year. The 22-year-old had already departed Belgium in 2013 and was riding at the Circuit de la Sarthe when he got the call-up, on the Thursday before the race. "Now I’ve got an actual bike for it and I’m ready to go," he jokes. "I go back to Spain for a little bit, for a couple of days’ recovery and then right back into it."
Unprepared and inexperienced he crossed the line over 26 minutes back on race winner Fabian Cancellara. With more time to get ready for the race, Durbridge hopes to make more of an impact. "It will be the same sort of thing (as Flanders). We don’t have a favourite so we’re going to have to be aggressive and get into some breakaways."
The Australian has been in Belgium for the last week, riding at E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. He was one of the many to take a tumble in the latter, but that hasn’t squashed any of his enthusiasm and has come through his brush with the tarmac better than most.
Durbridge showed that he is in good form with a late attack on the first stage of De Panne. He just missed the split, but gained valuable time on some of the better time triallists. "About eight guys went away and I just missed it and then on the last climb I tried to go across with Arnaud Démare. We almost made got there, but we didn’t quite get there," he told Cyclingnews.
The result puts Durbridge in a position to challenge for the general classification. He finished seventh in last year’s event and his time trialling skills could see him improve on that. However the Australian was reluctant to nail his colours to the mast just yet. "there are still two more really solid road stages to go. I’m just going to take it day by day. At the moment I’m happy with there the legs are."