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Durbridge determined to challenge Dennis for Olympic Games time trial spot

Australian time trial champion Luke Durbridge (Mitchelton-Scott) on stage 6 of the 2019 Tour of Britain
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Luke Durbridge kept productive during last year’s long competition shutdown, undertaking an online tertiary course, cooking, reading more, practicing yoga and finessing one thing he hopes will land him at the Tokyo Olympic Games this season.

The reigning Australian national time trial champion and Bike Exchange rider has spoken openly about his objective to be selected for the Olympic men’s time trial, a spot which former world champion Rohan Dennis may contest him for.

“I’d love to go the Olympics,” he said during the countdown to the Santos Festival of Cycling

“If that’s a support for the key guy in the road race, and the time trial then that’s something I would like to do. Obviously Rohan’s hand is firmly in the air for the TT and also, judging on what he did in the Giro, probably the road race also now, with how hilly it is, but that’s one of my major goals and I’m going to continue to focus on that.”

Dennis finished fifth, 40 seconds down on winner Filippo Ganna, at the World Championships last year, before supporting Ineos Grenadiers teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart to victory at the Giro d’Italia. He did not compete in the Worlds road race, as Durbridge did.

The 29-year-old Durbridge didn’t start a Grand Tour last season, passing on the Tour de France when it looked like the race would clash with the time trial world titles, which he was disappointed to finish 15th - one minute and 36 seconds behind Ganna - but also took positives from.

 “I was on the Tour de France list and then I decided I would do the world championships instead, focus on the world championships and then onto the Classics,” he said.   

“In a nutshell, my season wasn’t great. I started very well with the nationals and heading off to the Classics, I was in great form and then everything got shut down [due to the COVID-19 pandemic] from there.  

“But my focus on the TT was my major goal for the year. I wasn’t happy with the result I got at the World Championships. I was 15th and I really wanted top-five, top 10 … Sure, I maybe paced it slightly wrong but there was a few factors in general; Where I started, a couple of the guys that started really early got worser conditions than the guys that went off later, the wind was strong, but there was such a fine margin between being in that top 10, I think it was only 30 seconds and you were right in the mix with the top guys there.

“I felt like the last couple of years I ran just outside the top 10 and in that top 20, but I know I can be in that top five if I really put the ride together and get the right conditions,” Durbridge continued.

“I guess after all the work I was a bit like, ‘Argh shit, I would have liked for better,’ but other than the result there was a lot of positives out of the focus on that TT area and that’s something I’m going to continue focusing on.”

Durbridge is one of the most polite and good-natured riders in the WorldTour peloton and has strong family ties, which saw he and his wife return from their base in Girona, Spain, to Western Australia for Christmas and the start of his 2021 campaign.

The team BikeExchange stalwart, who extended for a further two seasons with the Australian-registered squad last year, underwent a government mandated, two-week hotel quarantine at his own expense on arrival Down Under, but says, even after the bitter taste of severe lockdown in Spain, which he was in at the onset of the pandemic, the trip was worth it.

“[The team] were quite good, they were like, ‘Do whatever you feel like you need after this season because, to be realistic, the season is going to look similar again this year. So, whatever you need to do, mentally to refresh, and see family, we suggest do it,’” Durbridge explained.

“I think, going back to Europe now, we’re under no illusion that we’ll be in the same sort of strict protocols and lockdowns here and there for the next season.”

That may extend to the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled for later this year after being postponed in 2020, which according to some reports is in doubt again due to the pandemic.

Durbridge will commence his season at Adelaide’s Santos Festival of Cycling that is running in place of the cancelled Tour Down Under this week, before travelling to Victoria to defend his time trial crown at the delayed February 3-7 national championships.

He’ll return to Europe for a team training camp in Spain and is looking forward to reuniting with Michael Matthews, who is re-joining the team after four seasons at Sunweb.

“It’ll be great to have him back. I worked with him at the world championships [last] year, which was nice to be back in that familiar role helping him out. He’s always so motivated for the victory and he’s always putting in 110 per cent to get himself in the best shape and do everything possible, so it is motivating working for a leader who puts in as much as he can,” Durbridge said.

“Since last time we worked together, I’m probably a bit more mature and confident in how I can help him where before it was, ‘What can I do, what can I do?’ Now, I know this is what we should do and help guide him through the races. I am looking forward to it. My program has shifted to be racing more with Matthews, so it will be good fun, like old times!” 

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