Durbridge pips Dennis after brutal struggle for nationals time trial

Credit: Cycling Australia/Zac Williams

Luke Durbridge (Mitchelton-Scott) emerged the victor for the second year running in the Australian National Road Race Championships Time trial after a titanic struggle with Rohan Dennis (Team Ineos).

With just three tenths of a second advantage at the midway split, Durbridge had the slenderest of advantages over the rainbow bands of Dennis with the second half of the 37.5 kilometre course around Federation University in Ballarat remaining.

In a race that came right down to the wire it was Durbridge that blitzed the time of third-placed Chris Harper (Jumbo-Visma) by a minute and 53 seconds before awaiting the arrival of his main competitor Dennis.

With the arrival of the world champion, there was a brief, tense wait before the result was announced and Durbridge punched the air.

The win gives Durbridge his fourth elite nationals time trial victory also his second consecutive title, both times besting reigning world champion Dennis.

“It just gets specialer and specialer,” said Durbridge. “I think when you are a young guy, you don’t realise how special they are and how hard to come by. Every year I come here I’m super motivated. I’m a proud Aussie and Rohan is a world champ and the world’s best, what better way to compare myself to the field than trying to beat Rohan?”

Durbridge made sure he lay claim to one of the two Olympics spots open to Australia in the time trial, proposing a two-pronged assault alongside Dennis.

“I think with the Olympics this year, Rohan is the world champion and we have two spots,” said Durbridge. “I’d really like to see Australia respect those two spots as I think Rohan and I really deserve them. Hopefully the selectors see it that way and I can go to the Olympics, that’s why I’m working hard. I’d love to represent my country as I’m a proud Aussie.”

The West Australian hard man went to the world championships last year off the back of the his win at nationals in January, where he finished 13th in the TT, but felt he’d be able to better that performance in Tokyo at the Olympics.

“It’s a good marker for sure,” said Durbridge of his current form. “I sort of messed up the worlds a bit, I was in good shape and didn’t really ride my best ride there and was outside the top ten.

“I know I can do it and be up there with the best and fair credit to Rohan, he always makes me step up my level. Hopefully we can drive each other towards good things to come.”

The new course was appreciated by fans and athletes alike, with the more spectator-friendly venue also offering a fast course for riders.

“I didn’t not like the last course,” said Durbridge, “but this was dynamic and everyone got to see each other twice, it was good. Every TT you have to pace differently. I stuck to my plan and paced it quite well.”

“I knew it was equal (at the midway point) and if I just didn’t implode that it was going to be close. I knew I had him on the turn, I’d put a little time into him, maybe ten seconds and after that it was fine.”

For every winner, there is a second-placed finisher and in the case of this top-class struggle it wasn’t just that either had to lose. Dennis wasn’t overly dramatic after the finish and seemed composed about where he sits currently with his form.

“Happy with the ride, the result could have been better,” said Dennis. “I did everything I went out there to do. I held the power I knew I could hold and in the end I was beaten by a better guy.

“Durbo is absolutely flying at the moment and I think with that ride he would have been at least top five at the worlds in Yorkshire. That ride hurt me more than Yorkshire to be honest.

Dennis praised the new course, summing up the variable nature of the parcours with one word.

“Challenging,” said Dennis. “Being that it was 18 kilometre laps you think it’s not that far and then you get onto the second lap and you’re like ‘oof, it’s going to hurt’. Challenging course but quick, so whoever designed this one, thank you. I appreciate the change.”

“It didn’t quite work out today, all you can do is the best you can on the day, that’s all I can control. It comes down to preparation at this time of year.”

Harper broke through for his first national time trial podium, just beating out Michael Hepburn (Mitchelton-Scott) by 10 seconds to claim third place.

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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger