Michael Hepburn's quest for Rio Olympic gold in the team pursuit begins this weekend as the Orica-GreenEdge rider makes his return to the velodrome for the first time in almost three years with the Australian team at the second round of the UCI Track World Cup in Cambridge, New Zealand from Friday.
Hepburn has won five world championships titles on the track, three in the team pursuit and two in the individual pursuit, between 2010 and 2013.
"I always had the track in the back of my mind over the past couple of seasons on the road," Hepburn said in an interview with Cycling Australia. "I had some great years on the track from 2009 till my last World Championships in 2013 but we didn't manage to win Olympic Gold in London and that is my main motivation for returning to the track ahead of Rio."
24-year-old Hepburn joined Orica-GreenEdge in 2012, with the 2015 Australian national time trial title and a stage win against the clock at the Tour of Qatar his best results so far on the road in his young career. Hepburn was also part of the Orica-GreenEdge teams which won the opening team time trials of the Giro d'Italia in 2014 and 2015.
Hepburn was part of the silver medal winning team pursuit squad at the London Games alongside Jack Bobridge, Rohan Dennis and Glen O'Shea with Alexander Edmondson a reserve rider. Only Dennis will be missing for the New Zealand World Cup with Luke Davison and Mitchell Mulhern completing the endurance squad.
"Most of these guys were there in 2012 when we came close and as a group we're very motivated to turn that result around next year. I've got to say it's really been good fun back training with the guys," Hepburn said. "We had some great memories back then but we’re still searching for that Olympic Gold."
The team has spent the last four weeks training at the Cycling Australia's High Performance Unit in Adelaide which has Hepburn feeling in "reasonable condition".
"I knew when I decided to come back that it wasn’t going to happen overnight but I'm really confident in the program that’s been put in place," he added.
"I have nine months ahead of me now and I'm confident that come Rio I can be a useful asset to our team so that's what I'll be working towards."
Having claimed bronze in the first round of the Track World Cup, Australia will have one of the strongest squads for the team pursuit and Hepburn expects a good showing as a result and the gold medal the target.
"Being the first World Cup of the year for the squad we have here it is hard to say what we'll do but we've targeted this race and have big ambitions," he explained. "We'll be aiming for three quality rides and three good times. I'm not sure what competition will be here but we are just aiming for some good quality rides and knowing we are headed in the right direction."
Team pursuit qualifying will be held this Friday, with round one and finals held on Sunday.