The Tour of Britain was Luke Durbridge's first race since he was forced to abandon the Tour de France following a heavy crash on stage 1. The Australian made the most of his enforced lay off over the summer, confirmation coming via three stage wins for Orica-Scott teammate Caleb Ewan and a top-ten in the stage 5 time trial.
The Tour crash was the second time in 2017 the 26-year-old was forced into a break from racing but Durbridge is on track for a strong finish to the season.
"Since I crashed out of Roubaix I've been on and off, injured and out of races, and crashes so it was nice to put eight days solid together. It was really nice to come back with the team and also a bit of confirmation I didn't waste my time when I had eight weeks off," Durbridge told Cyclingnews from Norway. "I stepped back into racing pretty well. I was obviously lacking some race legs but I stepped back in at some decent level to be able to compete and do my job for Caleb and also a half decent TT."
The comeback was important for Durbidge to regain consistency in the season but also in terms of the World Championships next week where he will be a key rider in the team time trial for Orica-Scott and the road race for Australia. While Durbridge, a former U23 time trial world champion, has ridden the individual race against the clock in previous years, he explained the race comes too soon in his recovery process.
"I don't think I had the time. Obviously, I am stepping back into racing and going quite well but there is a difference between lining up for the Worlds in the individual time trial with great form," he said with his ankle 'pretty much back to normal.' "I am not quite at that level. I need more time to arrive there so I didn't really bother asking to do the individual because it would be selling myself short. I'd rock up and do my best performance and maybe be top-30 or something, but I needed an extra four weeks or something to get that engine going."
During his July and August lay off, Durbidge took the time "to do some cool things and different things I normally couldn't do. I went swimming, played around some diet stuff and a few different things while having to have time on the couch." Principally, Durbridge invested in exploring his nutrition as to "best understand your body." With his extra curricular activities, Durbidge expressed reservations regarding his decisions but believes it will pay off.
"When I rocked up at Britain, it was like 'was that was worthwhile'. Sometimes you question if it's worthwhile, all this extra stuff you're trying to do and you think 'is it really going to matter when I get back to racing?' and I think it does. It makes a big difference," he said.
While not a fan of indoor training, Durbidge was also 'Zwifting around' during his recovery to ensure he could take his place in the trade and national teams for Worlds. A four-time medallist in the TTT, the West Australian is confident in Orica Scott's chances to finally claim gold in the discipline.
"We have a good squad this year and I think everyone on average is at a better level than we've ever had before. I think this year could be a good chance for us to put in a good performance," he said. "We can't really be worrying about what they are doing but for sure BMC is the stand out favourite. They have been the last couple of years and they are a pretty amazing squad who has produced. Everyone knows they are the favorites but we can only worry about what we are doing."
Following the TTT, Durbridge's attention will be solely focused on helping Michael Matthews to the rainbow jersey in the road race. Durbridge was a key rider for Matthews when the latter won the U23 gold medal in 2010. With a handful of elite Worlds appearances now under his belt, Durbridge is hoping his former Orica teammate can add a senior rainbow jersey to his palmarés
"I have done the Worlds the last three or four years and it is one of my favourite times of the year. Riding for your country is such a special thing and it's always been amazing for me to pull on the Aussie jersey," he said. "I really respect it and I think everyone who comes to the Worlds in the last couple of years has respected it like that and that means we all ride for each other.
"Matthews has been prepping for this for a long time, I know personally the Worlds is one of Matthews' biggest races that he ever thinks or dreams about. When he is portraying that energy, we all bounce off it that and want to support it. I definitely think we can support him in a way that he can arrive in the best opportunity to wear the rainbow jersey. We've been working for three or four years now with Bergen, so fingers crossed it all comes out well."
At the last two Worlds, Peter Sagan has proven to be the man to beat with Matthews claiming second and fourth. The Slovakian has shown no sign of handing over his rainbow jersey without a fight and will start the race as the man to beat. So how does Australia and Matthews beat Sagan? An early move could be the trick as Durbridge suggests.
"Hopefully it's a pretty solid race then it might have to be that chance that rather than waiting back for it to be a small reduced bunch sprint where Sagan is going to win, Matthews might have to use initiative and move," he said. "Obviously, when the team all gets together, we'll discuss tactics and work it all out. There are a lot of other good riders besides Sagan that we have to worry about."
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