Cycling selectors need to smarten up as Durbridge shines
Australia's GreenEdge Cycling Teams' Luke Durbridge, Stuart O'Grady and Robbie McEwen(AAP Image/Benjamin Macmahon)
Young Orica-GreenEdge neo-pro Luke Durbridge continues to produce the type of results that suggest Australia’s Olympic selectors got it horribly wrong in London.
The individual time trial – cycling’s ultimate race of truth and Durbridge’s speciality – was won comprehensively by Bradley Wiggins, but Australia’s effort was severely hampered when Cadel Evans was forced to pull out through illness on the eve of the event.
That left Michael Rogers to shoulder the load, but after months of burying himself for Wiggins throughout the Tour de France and the preceding lead-up races he was always going to fall short of the mark. Add to that a gut-wrenching solo effort to bridge across to the breakaway group in the Olympic road race just a few days before, and fatigue was always going to be a factor. The fact that he finished sixth was commendable.
Having said that, Rogers’ form warranted selection. Winner of the Bayern-Runfahrt individual time trial, second and third respectively at the Criterium International and Dauphine time trials, he deserved his place.
The questionable selection was Evans. Apart from winning the Criterium International individual time trial, his form was sketchy at best. Illness and injury beset the former world champion and his preparations for July were severely disrupted. He went into the Tour underdone and it showed. His illness has continued post-Tour and the remainder of his season is in doubt as he battles to regain his health.
While the Olympic team was selected before the Tour de France was completed, Evans’ battle to reach peak fitness had already been well documented. Were the selectors of the opinion that he could ride himself into form during the Tour? Or were they just blinded by his stunning efforts in the final individual time trial of last year’s Tour? Did they pick on reputation or form? It appears to be the former, especially when you take into account the utter humbling Evans received at the hands of Wiggins at this year’s Dauphine time trial.
Durbridge however, was ready. The current under-23 world time-trial champion added his country’s senior time trial title to his belt in January. On a windy day at Lake Learmonth, near Ballarat in Victoria, Durbridge stormed home ahead of Cameron Meyer to claim victory. Rogers was third, 16 seconds behind.
Then came a gritty overall win at the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe – Pays de la Loire. His win, in only his second visit to France, was set up by a scintillating time trial victory. Suffering debilitating tendinitis in his left knee, ‘Turbo’ had almost pulled out of the race after stage one, but showed great courage in not only claiming the time trial, but successfully defending his race lead on the hilly final stage that took in ten passes of Mont des Avaloirs, with its short but punchy ten percent gradient. It was only his third professional race.
At Dauphine he won the opening day’s prologue, beating Wiggins by just one second, and later finished a commendable seventh on the 53 kilometre stage four time trial. Wiggins was 1′ 28” faster and Rogers pipped him by 27 seconds, but he finished ahead of Evans, and had seemingly done enough to deserve Olympic time trial selection
But it was not to be.
Now though, the youngster has done it again. Last week, at the Tour de Poitou-Charentes, Durbridge put the polish on what was a glorious race for Orica-GreenEdge, by walking away with the general classification. Once again he did it off the back of a powerful individual time trial – his fourth victory in the race against the clock this year.
In fact, the Australian team led the race from start to finish. Lithuanian Aidis Kruopis wore the leader’s jersey on stages one, two and three after claiming the first two days in bunch sprints. He was relieved of the jersey by his teammate Durbridge after the stage four individual time trial. Turbo successfully defended the sacred fabric on the fifth and final stage.
Durbridge is young and his time will come, but the thought that he was robbed of a chance to compete at the Olympics still lingers. Would he have beaten Wiggins? Not a chance, but that is irrelevant. The fact is that along with Richie Porte (also unlucky to miss out), he is one of the best young time triallers Australia has. The experience of taking part in the Olympic Games would have been invaluable and his inclusion would have shown that the Australian selectors were making an investment in the future.
Instead they missed the boat. Maybe they felt obliged to support Evans given the extent of his success and his popular appeal, but it was a gamble that didn’t pay off. This is not a criticism of Evans. He is a fighter and always gives 100 percent effort. He would have agonised over the decision to withdraw.
The selectors, however, need to smarten up.