Luke Durbridge (Orica GreenEdge) got his first taste of the infamous Trouée d'Arenberg on Friday. His sports director, Matt Wilson, left him to the task from behind the steering wheel with a simple "See you on the other side, mate," and the 21-year-old took off down the 2400 metres that captivate and frustrate.
"I got halfway through and wanted to jump off my bike," Durbridge told Cyclingnews. "I think it's the hardest section, so it was good to do that one and get the hang of it. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
Durbridge is one of four Australians set to make their debut at Sunday's 111th edition of Paris-Roubaix. He will join Will Clarke (Argos - Shimano), Jonny Cantwell (Saxo - Tinkoff) and Zak Dempster (NetApp - Endura). Durbridge, the current national road champion, earned his last minute call-up to the Orica GreenEdge squad on Thursday, the day after he lost the overall lead at the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe - Pays de la Loire. He had taken the Sarthe lead on Wednesday with his repeat success in the individual time trial, for which he also wears the green and gold bands on his skin suit.
"I think maybe they knew before I went to Sarthe, but they wanted me to concentrate on the race," Durbridge said. With Tomas Vaitkus unavailable due to bursitis on his elbow, the guy they call "Turbo", however young and inexperienced, will be a more than adequate replacement.
Cobbles and the challenges that racing on their uneven surface brings is not something that comes easily to Australians who don't experience them as their European counterparts do, less so Durbridge having graduated from the national under 23 development program that also combined a successful track stint. The timing was just never right for him to compete in the Nations Cup races that featured the cobblestones, let alone junior Roubaix.
"It was definitely a tough experience the first couple of times, but I'm starting to realise these are the type of races that might suit my style, so I'm just going to have to suck it up," Durbridge explained.
Regardless of its challenges, one gets the distinct impression that his first will be a Paris-Roubaix that Durbridge enjoys. His team does not have the pressure that comes with having a major threat for the race win, despite the fact that Orica GreenEdge has some highly-capable starters including Sebastian Langeveld and 2007 winner, Stuart O'Grady.
"We'll take our opportunities and use that to our advantage," said Durbridge.