Since his 2012 debut as a GreenEdge rider, Luke Durbridge is yet to miss an edition of the Australian national championships road race. In 2013, the 26-year-old completed a memorable green and gold jersey double with victory i. He was also a key support rider for Simon Gerrans' 2012 and 2014 wins, along with several other medals the team has won.
Durbridge and his team have long stood as pre-race favourites, but the pressure has shifted now to BMC Racing with the new combination of Gerrans, Richie Porte, Rohan Dennis and defending champion Miles Scotson. Durbridge is thoroughly enjoying the "refreshing" shift in favourite status.
"I am really looking forward to Sunday," said Durbridge. "I think we have really good options in our team. And to be honest, the pressure is on BMC I think. We have nine guys but half of them are neo-pros anyway. They have four seasoned pros with Miles winning it last year so the pressure is on them. Not us."
"We still reminisce the day we had 17 riders in 2012 and that was pressure. It was panic stations. I think it is changing and also great for Australian cycling that there are really three big teams. Bennelong with like 15 guys all ready for the nationals, four BMC guys and nine Mitchelton-Scott. It is probably the best nationals field we have had for a long time in terms of teams. It is going to be a great race."
With his most consistent Classics campaign to date in the spring of 2017, Durbridge's season came to a grinding halt when he broke his ankle at the Tour de France. Durbridge made the most of the injury-induced layoff, as his strong showing in Wednesday night's criterium and Friday's time trial, where he claimed silver, suggests.
"You don't even get time for your body to do a full reset, so there were some things I could do in that little period, refresh my mind and body and come back firing," he said.
With a spread of riders across several WorldTour teams and an adjusted course for 2018 that includes the removal of two ascents of the Mount Buninyong climb, Durbridge believes there will be an added tactical dimension come Sunday afternoon.
"Two less climbs is going to help a big guy like myself," he said of the changes. "A couple of extra hundred meters of climbing you don't have to do and I think it will also favour the breakaway because once you are out of sight, you are out of sight. There is less recovery but there is more time to actually get away. Before, once you were over the climb, you were pretty much descending all the way to the finish and there was not much time to get away. Now I think there are a few more areas where the breakaway can actually go away. I think it will take a very long time for the breakaway to go away on Sunday."
While the target is the return of the green and gold jersey to Mitchelton-Scott, the national championship is just one goal for Durbridge this summer with the west Australian also to race the Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race before heading to Europe. He will follow a similar race programme to previous years, including living in Gent, Belgium for March. Durbridge is also hoping to avoid the pressure associated with favourite status in the Classics and take a win against the odds.
"I think you just have to be consistent in all of them and see the final in all of them," he said. "Eventually, you'll make the right call at the right time and hopefully throw your arms in the air."