Following their achievements in the time trial at the Australian Open Road Championships, Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn are set for their debut in the World Tour at the age of only 19. Two of the prodigies from the new generation of Australian track pursuiters will be part of the UniSA-Australia squad at the Santos Tour Down Under next week.
Having captured the gold and silver medals in the U23 time trial on Tuesday, Durbridge and Hepburn will be aiming to do what the likes of Tim Roe and Jack Bobridge have done in the past and make their mark on Australia's premier stage race and catch the eye of prospective employers.
"It's exciting," said Durbridge, who also claimed the silver medal at the world championship behind Taylor Phinney in Geelong last September. "We got to know about one month ago that we'd be in the team. We had an incline because there are usually one or two riders from the Jayco-AIS team at the Santos Tour Down Under. Last year it was Michael Matthews and Rohan Dennis, the year before it was Jack Bobridge and Travis Meyer."
"It's good for us because as track riders, we can't afford to have an off-season," explained Hepburn, who is a world champion at the elite level in the team pursuit. "In January and February, we have to peak for the world championship in March. We feel better doing 1,000 kilometres of racing in 30°C in Adelaide than the same type of efforts on rollers in the cold in Beijing, where we were last year for the World Cup. This is part of the preparation we have to do for the track."
Durbidge and Hepburn carry the hopes of Australia to strike again at the London Olympics, after a poor showing in Beijing in 2008 - four years after the gold medal was won in Athens by the team led by Bradley McGee. Beyond 2012, the duo also has a bright future on the road. The Santos Tour Down Under will give them a taste of what awaits them in a couple of years.
"We're not even neo pros yet," Durbridge noted. "Guys from other countries don't get an opportunity like that. We can't get this experience anywhere else. It's obviously impressive to get the chance to race with Lance Armstrong but also with the old Australian pros like Michael Rogers, Stuart O'Grady, Allan Davis, Simon Gerrans... the guys you look up to when you're a junior. Next week, we'll be in the same bunch!
"It's different to see here at the Tour village the guys you usually see on TV," Hepburn added. "To see [Mark] Cavendish walk through... [Alessandro] Ballan! We'll be racing with them but we're still going to be fans. I don't think our status will change by the end of the week."
"We'll be aggressive, we'll try to get of the front," Durbridge promised.