What appears to be the best field ever assembled for an Australian time trial title will line up in the elite men’s race on Thursday, January 8, for the 2015 Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships.
Luke Durbridge (Orica-Greenedge), Jack Bobridge (Budget Forklifts), Damian Howson (Oric-Greenedge) and Campbell Flakemore (BMC Racing) have all been time trial world champions at the under-23 level and will all be on the start line. Multi-time track world champion Michael Hepburn returns as the defending champion, while his Orica-Greenedge teammate Cameron Meyer won the title in 2010 and 2011.
Richie Porte (Sky), who finished fourth in the time trial at the 2010 world championships, will be on hand, as will three-time time trial world champion Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), who will return to the nationals for the first time in three years. The 2014 Tour de France stage winner isn't the favourite to take the win, however.
It’s South Australia's Rohan Dennis, fifth in the time trial at the 2014 UCI Road World Championships, who has been labeled by many of his rivals as the man to beat.
“Even though Hepburn is the reigning champion, I’d say from the form after the nationals (in 2014) Rohan would have to be the hot favourite,” said Durbridge, the 2013 Australian road race and time trial champion. “And then you look at Michael Rogers with his palmares, it’s pretty impressive as a three-time world champion. So I wouldn’t cross him off either. Then there’s Richie Porte and Cameron Meyer.
“It’s definitely going to be a hotly contested race,” Durdridge said. “Hopefully I can be up in the mix.”
Despite being the defending champion, Hepburn isn't the top favourite for the win. Nevertheless, the 23-year-old said another chance to wear the green and gold jersey throughout 2015 will provide plenty of motivation.
“It was a really special moment for me winning an Australian title,” Hepburn said. “To take the national stripes over to Europe and race in all the big races in the national champs jersey is very special. I’d really like to [defend the title].
“I think it’s going to be a really tough field this year. I expect there to be close to 10 guys who have a shot of taking the title, so it’s going to be a very hard,” Hepburn said. “Campbell Flakemore is fresh off winning the under 23 world title, and Rohan Dennis was the standout time trialist for Australia last season, so I think there is going to be some stiff competition.”
BMC's Dennis has said he will ride for teammate Cadel Evans during the road race on Sunday, January 11, but he isn’t hiding his ambitions for the time trial.
“I’ve had plenty of time on the second and third step [of podiums] over the last 12-months, so I’ll be hoping to change that in January,” he said.
A new course will be used for the time trial, and although there are no major climbs, there’s barely a flat stretch of road. Starting and finishing in Buninyong, the out-and-back circuit heads west before doing a U-turn and returning to Buninyong.