Team Jayco-AIS' Luke Durbridge came out on top for both time trials at last week's Olympia's Tour against some of the world's best under 23 riders, hopefully a sign that he can go one better that his second place in the event at the UCI Road World Championships in Geelong last October.
Back then, USA's Taylor Phinney denied the West Australian top spot on the podium however Durbridge because the youngest-ever medal winner in the event, aged just 19.
"Improvement for me this year is just about getting through the year consistently, keeping healthy and getting a good base under me for the following year," Durbridge told Cyclingnews from his Varese base. "My major goal for the year is the time trial at road worlds so that's in the back of my mind."
Current national Under 23 time trial champion Durbridge took out the opening prologue at Olympia's where he surprised himself to finish ahead of teammate Michael Hepburn by a meagre few tenths of a second. With the Australian team forced on the front, the pressure was on. The efforts of teammate's Hepburn, Nick Aitken, Alex Carver, Aaron Donnelly, Damien Howson, Richard Lang and Malcolm Rudolph was not lost on Durbridge.
"They sat on the front for us most of the week to keep us protected and I guess that's why I was able to have a good time trial on the second last day after five hard road stages," he said.
Just three seconds separated Durbridge and Hepburn in the second time trial, with Hepburn taking the race lead from his compatriot by one second. After four days on the road, some of which had been over 200 kilometres, the final stage went over the Amstel Gold course with 13 hill climbs.
"I think we just ran out of numbers and if we hadn't of taken the jersey so early on in the race it probably could have been a different story," explained Durbridge. "A few of the Dutch teams ganged up on us but to still run top 10, I'm really happy."
Cycling Australia professional men's road co-ordinator Matt White joined the team for the race in Holland and he was really impressed by the results, with Hepburn and Durbridge finishing 6th and 7th overall respectively.
"It's a big race for those guys up there," White told Cyclingnews from the Giro d'Italia. "Last year was the first year an Aussie team had been there since 1994 when Henk Vogels won. It's a special style of racing up in Holland, especially with some of the U23 guys – it's pretty cutthroat but it's a very, very good place to learn."
It was a sentiment echoed by Durbridge who admitted to dreading the return to Olympia's, given he's become accustomed to riding in Italy which is an altogether different style or racing.
"I went there in 2010 and didn't really ever want to go back it was such a hard Tour – just because of the wind and riding in the gutter," he explained. "Also riding up the front because of the narrow roads, I was a bit nervous going back into it. It's such a different style of racing – you have to keep position all the time and keep out of the wind you have to be in the top 20 all day and if you're not you'll either crash or got spat out the back or you'll run into road furniture."
Durbridge explained that working with White gave the team a lot of confidence.
"It's fantastic," he genuinely enthused. "He's got so much experience. You can tell he's been there and done most of the roads, you just sort of perk up and you want to perform for him because he's just such a good guy. He brings the best out in all of us and we're very lucky as AIS athletes to get such experience from someone like that."
Durbridge will now look to the Tour of Norway and then after a week's break, the International Tour of Thuringia which consists of both a team time trial and an individual time trial among its seven stages.
A big 2012 ahead
Once his season on the road is done, Durbridge has his eye on the rather large carrot of maintaining his place in Australia's world champion pursuit team on the track. Australia will defend its crown in the event on home turf before focussing on the London Olympics later in the year.
Durbridge finally cracked a place on the team in 2011, after missing out the year before despite riding in some world cup events and training with the team. Joining Jack Bobridge, Rohan Dennis, and Michael Hepburn Australia was the only team to break the four minute mark in the unusually slow track conditions in Apeldoorn in March on the way to winning gold. Durbridge describes the win over Russia in the final as "emotional," while missing out in 2010 added to his hunger.
"I put my hand up, took myself out of the Comm Games – I wasn't ready to make the team then, I knew that," he explained. "So I focussed on the road then came off the road and felt fresh and strong and got the result. It was an awesome feeling."
The West Australian is keen to turn professional for 2012 so finding a team that will accommodate his aspirations on the track is pertinent. If everything comes together, Durbridge will have some good options but if not, he says he won't be "too phased."