Hepburn ready for fast start to 2015

Tour Down Under, Giro and Worlds on agenda for Australian

The 2014 season for Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEdge) was one of many firsts, with a debut national time trial title and Giro d'Italia appearance the highlights of a full season on the road.

Hepburn, a multiple world champion on the track in the team and individual pursuit, explained to Cyclingnews he was happy with his returns from his longest season yet as a professional road racer, which was the first year not to feature a rainbow jersey win.

"In the past I've started I've started on the track and started on the road a little bit late," Hepburn said. "Following the start with Qatar and Oman, I did a lot of WorldTour races, I did my first Classics stint, my first Grand Tour.

"The first half of the year was quite busy and full on with racing, then I had a break through the middle of the year and started building up for the team time trial like I had in previous years. I was pretty happy with the season, of course parts went really well and parts which weren't so good, but all in all, I was satisfied with the year that was."

Hepburn's sole victory against the clock before 2014 was the prologue of the 2011 Tour de l'Avenir and his Australian national title win on the flat roads of Burrumbeet proved to be a perfect platform for the 23-year-old to build his season upon.

"It was a big one for me, I worked pretty hard for a couple of months before that," Hepburn said of the win, which saw him defeat teammates Luke Durbridge and Damien Howson. "It's the first race you do of the year, it's the national championships so you get to wear the jersey. For me it was also the first time trial I'd won, I only won a prologue before.

"Starting off like that gives you great confidence for the year to come, you put in some hard work in the off-season and to start like that in the first races is really good. It's obviously exciting because it's the jersey and you get to wear it in all the races of the throughout the year."

It never rains but it pours. Hepburn continued his fine early-season run in the desert at the Tour of Qatar, coming up trumps as he won the short time trial ahead of specialists such as Fabian Cancellara.

"It was the first time wearing the jersey in Qatar there, I think it was only three or four weeks after nationals, I'd had the training camp between those two races and I was feeling really good," he said.

"I saw that the race was 10km and on road bikes so I targeted it a few weeks beforehand and it paid off with a victory there."

The firsts kept coming for Hepburn as he prepared for his first full cobbled classics campaign.

"I'd only done De Panne and Dwars door Vlaanderen, I hadn't done Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, which I was about to do but I didn't really know what to expect. I knew they were some big races and races that I hadn't done before but if you're going well you feel a bit more comfortable and confident about what's coming up."

Having finished both of the Monuments, Hepburn agreed that that they could be races to target in years to come.

"I am not sure exactly what races I'll be doing in the future but I think, as a rider, I am suited to those sorts of races," he said. "While it may take some time to learn the roads and learn how they are raced, experience is a big thing in Belgium, for sure I am looking forward to doing more of them and hopefully one day doing those races as a contender."

Highs and lows of the Giro d'Italia

Not many riders have had the privilege of starting their first Grand Tour with a win, let alone riding to defend the leader's jersey for a week – yet that was exactly Hepburn's experience. After Orica-GreenEdge won the opening team time trial in Belfast, stage wins for Michael Mathews – in pink no less – and Pieter Weening in the first nine days of the Giro d'Italia had Hepburn on cloud nine.

"It was a dream start for the team and we'd said a few weeks before that we were targeting the win in the team time trial. We built the team pretty much around the first day but just to actually win that is another thing and obviously pretty special. Nine days with three stage wins and to have the week in the jersey and really control the race that first week was really cool."

Knowing just how lucky he was, Hepburn isn't expecting the same scenario second time round as the last week of the Giro proved to be a stark reminder of how the majority of the peloton experiences the Giro and Grand Tours in general.

"It was my first Grand Tour so I didn't really know what to expect but I know that every Grand Tour you do after that isn't going to be the same. Some teams you can go through the race without any stage wins or successes but we were lucky we could capitalise on our opportunities in that first week.

By the third week of the Giro, GreenEdge were down to just Hepburn and Tuft.

"It was a tough week with so many mountains just packed in the last week and I don't go up the hills too well, so it was tough," Hepburn reflected. "After that stage up the Stelvio and Gavia, in those conditions on that terrain, once you got through that, you knew you could get through the rest of the race. We just had to day it day by day, making the time cuts and it was a great feeling getting through that last week.

"A lot of people ask me how it must have been through that last week but in all honesty, Svein and I had each other there, we were rooming together, eating dinner together and then being on the bike together. It brought us a lot closer, and he'd been there and done it all before and he was really good to me and really encouraging, helping me through that last week.

"We had 'DS Matt] Whitey there and Dan Jones and the spirit was still pretty high but that also comes back to the first week that we had. There was no pressure on the team to perform after that first week and Svein and I in the mountains weren't expected to do anything. I enjoyed that last week."

2015 ambitions

The upcoming season will see Hepburn again fully focus on the road with a first appearance at the Tour Down Under since 2011 all but confirmed after he attempts to defend his time trial title on a new lumpy parcours.

"I am going to be doing the Tour Down Under and Jayco Herald Sun Tour next year so I'll be starting a little bit earlier than Qatar this year and, obviously by the second week of January when the nationals are, you have to be in good condition already, so I hope to be in good condition again."

Despite the earlier start to 2015, Hepburn's season will follow a fairly similar trajectory to this year with the Giro d'Italia a major target again.

"Another big goal will be the Giro again which starts with the team time trial," he said. "I think we'll send another strong team there in that respect and hopefully we can get some more successes there.

A debut Tour de France appearance is likely to be delayed though as Hepburn will focus on securing his first rainbow jersey on the road as he explained.

"The second half of the year will be built mostly around the team time trial Worlds which is one we haven't got yet and we've been close a couple of years now. For that, we have good group that does a lot of racing and training together now. We haven't won it yet so we'll be aiming to win next win."

The Giro will feature one of the longest time trials in recent Grand Tour history at 59.2km from Treviso to Valdobbiadene. With a second place at the lengthy Duo Normand two-up time trial on his palmarès, Hepburn will be a possible dark horse for a top result on the challenging parcours.

"I think so," Hepburn said when asked if he would target the stage. "During that middle section 'of the Giro this year] I wasn't sure how I'd get through it and we were trying to save energy through those middle days so I didn't attack the time trial 'at Barolo – ed.] but I hope next year I can have a crack there for sure."

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