Neither epic pot holes nor raging bush fires could prevent a rampaging Luke Durbridge from defending his national individual time trial title.
Spurred on by the thought of once again spending his pro-season in national colours, ‘Turbo’ recovered from a race eve encounter with a pot hole to storm home 21 seconds ahead of an equally impressive Rohan Dennis.
But the race was lucky to have been run at all, with an out of control bush fire threatening to close the Avenue of Honour section of the route.
Having already burnt out thousands of hectares of grassland and destroyed several houses and outbuildings, the fast moving fire was eventually contained late the night before.
Durbridge’s new teammate, Michael Matthews, set the early pace, holding the number one spot on the podium until the last two riders (Durbridge and Dennis) bumped him down to number three. He finished 45 seconds behind Durbridge, while Richie Porte was a further three seconds back in fourth. It was daylight to fifth.
The disappointment of the day was former national road race title holder, Jack Bobridge. Bobridge could only manage 18th, a massive four and a half minutes down on the victor. It was not the start to the season the former Orica-GreenEdge rider would have wanted.
But the day belonged to Durbridge. His thrilling performance was warmly appreciated by the large crowd and he is fast becoming a Ballarat favourite, which is just as well as it looks as though the locals will be seeing a lot more of him.
“The nationals are a very important race for me,” said Durbridge after the podium presentations. “I take pride in wearing my national colours over in Europe so if I can continue to put myself in good form in January, I’ll continue to ride this [race] for as long as I am professional.”
This is good news for us back in Australia, but more importantly it sets up a potential rivalry that is mouth-watering.
Individual time trialling as a spectator sport is sometimes likened to watching grass grow, but a yearly battle between Durbridge and the rapidly improving Dennis, where both riders leave nothing on the road in their attempts to win the title, would have fans flocking to the course.
It would be brutal.
Durbridge gives good insight into just how brutal the race against the clock can be. His theory is one of no pain, no gain.
“With the time trial, when you really, really, really feel yourself hurting, you know you’re having a good time trial. It’s the days when you get out there and don’t feel like you’re hurting that badly, that’s when you’re not going well enough. For me, when I was out there and half way around the lake and already in that suffer zone, I knew today was a good day.”
That last phrase is something of an understatement. Despite fluky cross winds, Durbridge spent the early parts of the race hovering around 60 kph, touching 70 kph on sections of the outward journey along the Avenue of Honour. He finished with an average of well over 50 kph.
But, according to the man himself, he can still improve. His focus in the short term will remain with the time trial, but after that the sky’s the limit.
“I think for the time being I want to really concentrate on my time trialling ability, really get that to as best as possible. But even this year I’m one or two kilos lighter than I was the year before, so I might be able to gradually lose a bit of weight over the next couple of years and then start to focus on those one week tours, the Tour of California, things like that.”
But I am dreaming of next year. The brute strength of Luke Durbridge versus the smooth precision of Rohan Dennis should equal an exciting time trial.
I can hear the hum of their disc wheels already!