Hepburn: That's six rainbow jerseys for me and for sure it's the most special

Australian helps power Australia to team pursuit success on return to Track Worlds

Michael Hepburn, only 24 years of age but still a figure of experience at the heart of the young Australian team pursuit squad, told his fellow riders they were "on the verge of something magical" ahead of their gold medal-winning ride at the Track World Championships on Thursday.

He wasn't wrong. The quartet for the final, including Callum and Miles Scotson and Sam Welsford, produced a storming ride – the second fastest of all time – to take the world title in front of a fervent and partisan British home crowd. They did so with an average age of just over 21, taking it to Olympic champions and world record holders Great Britain, whose team contained Bradley Wiggins and Ed Clancy, both over 30 and highly decorated.

"The boys were super hungry tonight and I told them before we went out, we're on the verge of doing something magical and they just didn't let the pressure get to them," Hepburn told Cyclingnews and a small group of journalists after a trip to the podium to collect his sixth world championships gold medal.

"Hats off to them, against a GB quartet riding quick on home soil in an Olympic year and they just didn't let it phase them."

Hepburn, who returned to the track this winter after a near three-year absence, described the title as the most special of his collection of six.

Between 2010 and 2013 he won three golds in the team pursuit and two in the individual pursuit, as well as a silver medal – behind GB – in the team pursuit at the London 2012 Olympics. After taking a step back to focus on the road with Orica-GreenEdge, the 24-year-old is back on the boards with his sights firmly set on Rio.

"That's six rainbow jerseys for me and for sure it's the most special," he said.

"Coming back into the programme and seeing the boys develop, growing on and off the bike over the last four to five months has been really satisfying, and these guys have just done absolutely everything that the team's asked, I've asked, anybody's asked of them…plus some.

"What really got us across the line tonight was six solid guys, no superheroes, just a good solid team working together and getting the best out of each other. I'm really proud to win like this because I've been on the losing end as well in an Olympic year to GB by 0.1 of a second on my home soil leading into the London Games and it really hurts."

Several months after that ride, GB stormed to Olympic gold on home turf, and Hepburn notes that, looking back over the past cycles, Worlds success has been a precursor to Olympic glory.

Australian coach Tim Decker agreed that it was hugely satisfying to put down such a marker, but rather than basking in the moment too much, he was keen to stress the need to be even better in Rio.

"I'm very very happy, very very proud, and extremely excited. It's got to get better than that, though, to win an Olympic gold medal," he told Cyclingnews.

"We're under no illusions. Ed Clancy has just come back from injury, so let's not get too carried away. They're certainly a force to be reckoned with and they'll step up another level, and we expect Ed to be back to 100 per cent by Rio. We've got some improving to do."

With times expected to be quicker in Rio, and even the world record under threat, Hepburn echoed his coach's views. What is clear, though, is the Australians and the British are emerging as the strongest teams and that age-old rivalry is firing up again.

"Both teams proved tonight they're on their way," said Hepburn. "I know they're not at 100% at the moment with Ed just coming back but I think we've got some room to improve as well, so it's going to be stiff competition come the Olympics and I'm really looking forward to the battle."

The competition for Rio gold extends to selection for the Australian team which Hepburn explained as "healthy".

"Of course it's intense but it's quite healthy. We've got eight or nine guys still in the fold for the Olympics. It's a really healthy pressure at the moment, none of the guys are out to prove themselves, we're just constantly trying to prove ourselves as a team, to get faster and faster," he said. "That's one of the most satisfying things about tonight, riding quick times. It's such a young team, with three debutants at the Worlds here, as well as other guys who are young and don't have a lot of experience at international level." 

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