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Michael Hepburn (Australia) rode to the bronze medal
Australian primed for aggressive road race showing
In spite of an early crash, Australian talent Michael Hepburn delivered a fine performance to take the bronze medal in the under 23 men's time trialat the UCI World Championships in Copenhagen on Monday.
Hepburn was forced to stop and change bikes after he came a cropper on a sharp left hand turn, but while the time he lost may well have cost him a silver medal, he acknowledged that his fellow countryman and newly-crowned world champion Luke Durbridge was always out of reach.
"I think it cost me maybe twenty seconds or so. It knocks you out of the rhythm and stuff, but there was no way I was going to win the gold today," Hepburn told Cyclingnews in Copenhagen's Radhus after the finish.
"The difference between second and third is not a huge deal to me. Obviously if I thought it had cost me the rainbow jersey I'd be hugely disappointed, but I don't think it did. Luke was too strong and hats off to Rasmus Quaade. He performed with the home pressure."
Putting l'Avenir behind him
Hepburn arrived in Copenhagen under something of a cloud following a mixed Tour de l'Avenir. The 20-year-old showcased his sparkling repertoire by winning the prologue and followed that up with a forceful uphill sprint triumph on stage 3, the day after he had been handed a 30-second penalty for irregularities in the sprint.
However, his victory celebration in Porrentruy was deemed inappropriate by team coach Neil Stephens, and a disappointed Hepburn was sent home that evening. Although he had already intended to abandon the following day in order to prepare for the Worlds, he was upset by the way his race ended.
"Tour de l'Avenir was for me personally very up and down," he said. "It started on such a high, there were a few little things that went on and there was that personal battle that I was having that really shook me about as well. I was always planning to leave the tour after four days. Unfortunately, a personal gesture which was taken and understood the wrong way caused me to leave a day early."
After enduring a difficult couple of weeks in the immediate aftermath of his much-publicised finish line gesture, Hepburn was glad to have the chance to focus his energy on racing and the world championships.
"It was a very hard time for me, probably the hardest couple of weeks in my short career to deal with that sort of stress," he said. "It was hard on my family as well. I'm lucky I had the support of my family, my friends and my girlfriend, who helped me through the last couple of weeks.
"I just tried to put it at the back of my mind. It was hard. Obviously I was very stressed for a few days. But as I said I had that support and I just came back to Italy and started training, looking forward only."
Taking aim at the road race
At ease across a range of disciplines, the versatile Hepburn now turns his thoughts to the under 23 road race on Friday, which he acknowledged was a bigger target than the time trial.
"I said before that I prepared 50 per cent for the time trial and 50 per cent for the road race, but for me it was always more about the road race," he explained. "I've come here and I've got a bronze medal in the time trial and I'm stoked with that, but I'm still remaining focused and very motivated for Friday."
Hepburn is part of a solid seven-man Australian squad that also includes Durbridge, Rohan Dennis and Jay McCarthy. The team may lack an out-and-out sprinter, but Hepburn hinted that the Australians were prepared to be inventive as they seek to defend the title won by Michael Matthews in Geelong twelve months ago.
"If you look at our team, we have one of the strongest teams here. We have some very strong riders. We don't really have an obvious sprinter but then we won't race for a pure sprint. We have some strong guys, and I think we can definitely do something."