With a pedigree that rivals the likes of countryman Brad McGee, Australian pursuit star Michael Hepburn isn’t letting his successes in 2009 detract from a bigger goal ahead: the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Hepburn is the reigning junior world champion in the individual pursuit, a mark he has broken on three occasions this season, with his best time of 3:15.586 recorded at the junior world championships in Moscow, Russia, in August this year.
He was recently a member of the Australian team pursuit outfit that beat Great Britain comprehensively at the UCI Track World Cup round in Melbourne, the Queenslander part of the 3:59.599 time recorded on the boards at the Hisense Arena, the first occasion a sub-four minute team pursuit has been ridden in Australia since Germany did so at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
The first wheel in Australia’s pursuit train, Hepburn has the power and style of a Bradley McGee or Luke Roberts, some of the nation’s premier road exports who originally made their mark in the individual pursuit and won gold medals in the team version of the race against the clock at the Athens Olympics.
Now Hepburn looks set to possibly repeat this type of achievement, and if everything goes to plan, his dream may be realised in London. “In the next 12 months my real goal will be the team pursuit up until London,” Hepburn told Cyclingnews.
“It looks like it’ll be a bit more of a track focus [for me] until London – that’s the goal on the track. I’d still like to do good blocks of road [racing] through then because after London I’ll tackle that as well, if I’m happy with the Games. It’ll be track for the next few years because I really want to make that London squad,” he added.
In 1993, McGee became junior world champion in the individual pursuit, the first in a long list of achievements on the track that preceded his career on the road; 16 years later, Hepburn also became junior world champion and won’t be abandoning the boards any time soon.
Like McGee, who often battled Bradley Wiggins for the title of world’s best pursuiter, Hepburn also has an archrival on the other side of the world when it comes to trading world record blows in the velodrome. The 18-year-old from Brisbane ‘stole’ the world mark from American rider Taylor Phinney this year and modestly realises the significance of his achievement.
“I went to track nationals this year and didn’t really expect to break the [world] record but after that it gave me great confidence and a benchmark for riding the junior world championships,” said Hepburn. “I went quicker than that mark twice, exactly one second quicker than Phinney went as a 19-year-old and if I can step up to the level he has in the next 12 months, I’ll be really pleased,” he added.
While it’s expected that Hepburn will make a smooth transition to road professional in the next few years, for the time being his choice of road teams is dictated by how much it allows him to pursue his track ambitions. Having ridden for Fly V Australia this season, Hepburn is grateful for the leeway management gave him in 2009, although that will change next year, when he will ride for Australian development outfit Team Jayco-Skins on the road.
“Fly V Australia has been great to me during the past 14 or 15 months; unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to ride that much with the team because its based in America and I had track focus,” said Hepburn. “I still got away to a few events with those guys and rode with the likes of Bernard Sulzberger and Jonny Cantwell and gained a heap of experience. And obviously Henk Vogels as directeur sportif gives a really good helping hand.
“I have to thank those guys for the help they’ve given me over the period and they’ve been very supportive of my track commitments and have allowed me to travel when I’ve needed to and welcomed me back with open arms. They’ve been really good to me and the last 14 months riding for them has been great for my track racing,” he added.
“I’ve actually just signed for the Jayco Skins team for next year; I’d love to stay with the Fly V boys but they can’t support my track commitments and understandably so,” continued Hepburn. “Jayco-Skins links in with the Australian Institute of Sport – the road and track programs are really intertwined and I’ll get into the road program in Italy next season. The Commonwealth Games are next year and obviously they’re huge for me,” he explained.