It is a tale of two time triallists at this year's 97th edition of the Giro d'Italia. The similarities between Orica-GreenEdge teammates – and fellow Australians – Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn are many, including their goal to win the opening stage team time trial in Belfast.
"I haven't really thought past the team time trial to be honest," Durbridge told Cyclingnews. "It is such a big focus for us, it's all I am thinking about at the moment."
For Durbridge, it's his second crack at the Giro d'Italia after an impressive debut last year that saw him place sixth on the 54.8km stage-eight time trial from Gabicce Mare to Saltara which finished with a tough climb. Compatriot and eventual third-place race finisher Cadel Evans (BMC) finished seventh on the stage, four seconds behind Durbridge.
"I am significantly more relaxed than last year," said Durbridge. "Coming into my first Grand Tour last year, I did not know what to expect and was really nervous and had all sorts of emotions going around."
"Now, I know what to expect at the end of the day it is just another bike race that happens to be three weeks long. I've come into this year's Giro in much better condition as I came in last year quite tired. But I have prepared well and I am ready."
The Giro d'Italia was not original on Hepburn's race program this year, but about a month ago he realised there was an opportunity to go to the Giro d'Italia to ride support in the team time trial. It's his first career start at a Grand Tour and while nervous, like Durbridge, has his sights firmly set on the opening stage.
"At the moment all I am thinking about is the opening team time trial as the team has some pretty high expectations as we are hoping to win it," Hepburn told Cyclingnews. "After that I will be doing my job helping Michael Matthews in the sprint stages and doing what I can to help our GC guys like last year's Italian road race national champion Ivan Santaromita."
Differences and similarities
Durbridge and Hepburn closely mirror each other in age, size and palmarès. Durbridge, who turned 23 years of age on April 9, is just four months and eight days older than Hepburn (August 17). At 187cm and 78kg, Durbridge is also slightly taller and heavier than his teammate who stands at 186cm, 76kg. Both joined Orica-GreenEdge in 2012 after each served two years on Australian Continental team Jayco-Skins.
Durbridge, a Western Australia-native and former triathlete, has built an impressive resume specialising in the individual time trial, road races and various track cycling disciplines. The exact same could be said for Hepburn.
The man nicknamed ‘Turbo Durbo' has collected a trophy case of achievements, including an U23 world time trial championship (2011), two national time trial championships (2012-13) as well as the national road race championship in 2013 – the first rider in Australian history to win both titles in the same year at an Elite level.
Queenslander Hepburn's curriculum vitae includes a Commonwealth Games gold medal in the team pursuit (2010), as well as a bronze in the individual pursuit, three track world championships in team pursuit (2011, 2013) and individual pursuit (2013), an Olympic silver medal in the team pursuit (2012), and finally a 2014 national time trial championship he took from Durbridge in January.
The biggest difference between the two comes down to WorldTour experience. While both riders joined Orica-GreenEdge in 2012, Hepburn's focus remained solely on the track while Durbridge tested his legs – and mettle – on the WorldTour stage.
"This is my third year with the team, but my first year without any track commitments over the Australian summer/European winter," said Hepburn. "I have already noticed my fitness levels are a lot more consistent just having a steadier build up over the pre-season and then entering with more base in the legs."
Other than his involvement in Orica-GreenEdge's second place in the team time trial at the world championships and Duo Normand in 2013, and Tirreno-Adriatico in March this year, Hepburn's greatest solo success came at the Tour of Qatar individual time trial on stage 3 in February.
"Ever since I won the national championship jersey with the green and gold stripes, I have probably put it on four or five times now," said Hepburn. "The first time I put it on was in Qatar when I won the time trial there and that was a really special moment."
As for any advice Hepburn has been given by his teammates, he says there has been plenty from everyone including Durbridge.
"Luke and I have been friends for years as we grew up racing juniors together on the track," said Hepburn. "Luke did his first Giro last year and the first Grand Tour is an experience for anyone. A lot of our guys have experience and are trying to talk me through what to expect, but at the end of the day I literally have no idea. I'm going into the unknown as I've never raced this long at one time, but I am really looking forward to it and ready to get this adventure started."
Durbridge on the other hand has tasted individual success on a grander scale, including his first professional win in April 2012 taking the overall title at the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe before he unexpectedly defeated Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and world time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) to win the prologue of the Critérium du Dauphiné. He also captured a 2.1-category general classification win at the Tour du Poitou-Charentes. Most recently, he finished second overall in the Three Days of De Panne.
"Three days of De Panne was a big result for me, as I've been trying to get on the podium there the last two years," said Durbridge.
"I would like to develop a bit more as a bike rider and not just a time trialist. There might be a few stages where the team tries me this year at the Giro, or depending on how things go here, perhaps the Tour of Slovenia or even the Tour de France. I have a lot to target, but success for me at the Giro would be a team time trial win on stage one and a top three at an individual time trial stage."