Turbo set to scorch Ballarat’s roads

Sean Lee Columnist

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Australia's GreenEdge Cycling Teams' Luke Durbridge, Stuart O'Grady and Robbie McEwen (AAP Image/Benjamin Macmahon)

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Luke Durbridge is a brute on the bike. At the recently completed Jayco Bay Classic he seemed to tower over the other riders. Even when buried within the bunch, his big frame was evident.

When he rose from the saddle and stamped on the pedals with those big Fabian Cancellara like legs, his bike flexed and rocked beneath him like a fragile toy.

His stage two victory on the notoriously painful Portarlington circuit was a powerhouse performance and a great way to start the year.

Now though, his focus turns to the Australian nationals, and Turbo, as he is affectionately known, is all set to scorch the roads of Ballarat as he seeks to defend his individual time trial title.

He goes in as the hot favourite and a quick look at his 2012 palmarès shows why. It contains but one hiccup.

By his own admission, Durbridge had a disappointing world championship. In stark contrast to his performances at under-23 level when he finished second in the individual time trial in 2010 and as champion in 2011, Turbo had to be content with 21st place at elite level in 2012.

But the disappointment would not have lingered long. With the dust settled and the post mortems complete, Durbridge would have looked back on his neo-pro year with a certain level of satisfaction.

General classification victories at the Circuit de la Sarthe and the Tour du Poitou Charentes were built on the back of comprehensive individual time trial performances and a handful of victories in the race against the clock at other events, including the Criterium du Dauphine where he outpointed even Bradley Wiggins in the Grenoble prologue, clearly indicate his star is rising.

And now he is looking at starting his 2013 season the same way as he started 2012 – by claiming the individual time trial at the national championships.

This year’s event is to be held on a new course centred around Ballarat’s Lake Wendouree. Although the non-technical and almost pancake flat route lacks some imagination, it may still throw up the odd challenge to the unwary time trialist.

Basically,the course can be split into two parts – the six-kilometre loop of Lake Wendouree and the straight but exposed out and back stretch along the Avenue of Honour.

Wind will almost certainly play its part whether it’s whipping off the lake or across the open paddocks further out of town, and the slight upward gradient on the run back into town should not be underestimated.

Those who have gone into the red too early will find the long drag taking its toll, and if accompanied by a head wind, precious seconds could be lost.

While Durbridge is favoured to win, he faces stiff opposition from a talented field. Richie Porte, Jack Bobridge and Rohan Dennis appear to be his biggest threats, while Michael Matthews and Nathan Haas will also be pushing hard.

Bobridge especially, will be hoping for a change in fortunes. After winning the national road title in 2011, he came to grief in the 2012 individual time trial after being blown from his bike by a passing truck. Michael Rogers was also hindered by traffic that day and race organisers have finally realised that to run a fair and proper (and safe) championships, all roads must be fully closed.

The only big name missing from the individual time trial start list is Cameron Meyer. Second in last year’s event, the highly rated Orica-GreenEdge rider will instead try his luck in the criterium on Thursday evening before turning his focus to the road race on Sunday.

The Roar’s own Jonathan Lovelock will also be competing.

For those who are interested, I will be twittering from within the Media area.

Follow Sean at www.twitter.com/downundrcycling

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