It was at Circuit Cycliste Sarthe in 2012 then neo-professional Luke Durbridge carved his name into the race's record books. The Stage 3 time trial around Angers marked the Australian's first professional victory for Orica GreenEdge and he did it wearing the colours of the Australian national time trial champion. He went on to capture the overall classification in 2012 and now seems poised to do it again in 2013.
Twelve months on from his first victory the now experienced road and TT national champion has demonstrated his class by winning the short individual test at Sarthe and with it pulled on the race leader's jersey. At this edition of the French race, the Australian squad has a near full complement of riders - a number of which sit in the perfect position to put pressure on the remaining GC hopefuls.
Durbridge was kept out of trouble in the morning's short road stage so he could save all his energy for the 6.8km test. His margin of victory was much closer this year with the 21-year-old besting RadioShack Leopard's Bob Jungels by less than one-second while Orica GreenEdge teammate Cameron Meyer, who has just recently started his European campaign, finished in third. In fact the team filled four of the top-ten spots with Svein Tuft and Michael Hepburn finishing in fifth and 10th respectively.
The time gap between himself and Jungles is irrelevant right now, according to the new race leader Durbridge who believes he has the condition necessary to defend his title from last year.
"I won by .17 of a second," said Durbridge on his team site. ".17 of a second or 17 seconds - it doesn’t matter. A win is a win, and I’m happy for this victory today. My teammates did a really good job looking after me, keeping me out of the wind and saving me from using excess energy. Thanks to their efforts, I was able to stay fresh for the time trial and pull of the win."
"The team had great rides not only by me but also by Cam, Svein and Heppy [Michael Hepburn]," said Durbridge. "We’re all in great condition, but today I was just a little bit better than them. I got the victory today. Another day it could easily be one of them beating me."
"We obviously have a team full of strong time triallists," he continued. "It’s not necessarily something we’re competitive about amongst each other. We really are genuinely happy to see our teammates go well. More than anything, I think our time trialing abilities show that we have a strong team. The time trial is a difficult test of physical and mental strength. With so many riders able to test themselves well in the time trial, it shows we have a strong team capable of going well in other races, too."
Doing the double by winning the TT and the overall will be a little more complicated says Durbridge who added that the profiles of the next two stages are more difficult than what he had to contend with in the prior edition.
"Last year I got dropped in that hill of Stage 4 and I got back on," he told Cyclingnews. "This time, the finish is uphill but my condition is better. I remember it's a tough stage. They were attacking and going crazy."
"The next two road stages are a bit more difficult than the last two stages last year," Durbridge said on his team site. "I’m going in with every intention to defend the jersey until the finish. We have options to play with Cam Meyer down by one-second in third overall, and Svein [Tuft] is only four-seconds behind."
"Having Cam and Svein close to me on the overall is to our advantage," said Durbridge. "We can send one of them up the road to take the pressure off the rest of us. We have options, and we’ll discuss all of them in our team meeting."