Durbridge produces stunning solo ride to dominate first stage of Festival of Cycling

Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) animated and dominated the 106.8 kilometre Stage 1 from Seppeltsfield winery to the flat sprint finish in Tanunda, attacking early and securing a memorable solo win with a powerhouse ride.

It was a ride to remember for Luke Durbridge as he took on the mammoth task of completing a 80-kilometre solo effort to win the opening stage of the Santos Festival of Cycling by two minutes and 24 seconds to second-placed Raphael Freienstein (Inform TMX MAKE).

“I guess it wasn’t really the plan,” said Durbridge. “We were obviously putting big pressure on our shoulders being the only WorldTour team here.

“I said to myself, be a bit brave, go for it, it’s only one hundred kilometres. But when we got out there it was 40 degrees and 100 kilometres is still a long way.”

“After the first intermediate sprint I squeezed it a little bit and nobody came with and then just settled in. But that’s my style, most time of the year I’m doing that on the front of the peloton.”

The effort the team BikeExchange rider was expending was clear to see, salt stains much in evidence and the West Australian regularly taking on water bottles as the temperature reached 34 Degrees Celsius.

“Probably the last lap, I started to get the twinges, my fingers went each way and my legs started to cramp a bit,” said Durbridge. “You saw in the last ten kilometres I lost a minute and a half, my legs were seizing up a bit.”

” I just had enough gap to hold onto the line.”

A fast-paced start to the stage saw the peloton stretched out as riders tried to form the early move of the day.

After a tough struggle a 6-man breakaway formed off the front of the peloton, but it was only shortlived as the main bunch swallowed up the escapees of the first climb of the day. Matt Ross pinged off the front of the race over the top of the ascent, hoping to pull on the first mountains jersey of the race.

A series of attacks saw the a large group go clear of the peloton with Lucas Plapp, Kell O’Brien (both Garmin-Australia), Nick White, Ben Metcalfe (both Bridgelane), Steve Robb (CycleHouse), Brendon Davids (Oliver’s Real Food), Damien Howson, Durbridge (both Team BikeExchange), Tim Roe (Cervelo-Tonsley Village), Raph Freinstein (Inform TMX Make), Brad Soden, Jordan Kerby (both MEIYO CCN), Matthew Rice (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) and Dylan McKenna (Nero Continental) all present.

As the gap to the escaped group increased, riders in the peloton felt the race riding away up the road, forcing a series of attacks from behind to try and bridge to the dangerous front group. That resulted in an obliteration of the race, with a trailing peloton, including Tour de France star Richie Porte, that formed minutes behind the front of the race.

The leaders went through the first intermediate sprint, O’Brien winning the sprint, and Durbridge put in an acceleration, went free and found himself solo at the front of the race with over 80 kilometres remaining. He quickly built an advantage, a 45 second lead with 75 kilometres to go stretched to just under two minute’s gap, after the second ascent of Mengler Hill, with 63 kilometres left to ride.

Chris Harper (Garmin-Australia) was the first to inject real pace into the chase, again splitting a group off the front of the peloton setting off in pursuit of the escaped three-time Australian time trial champion. The Harper group was brought back by the much-reduced peloton, that started out with 106 riders at the start, and was closer to the 25 riders ineffectively chasing Durbridge.

A number of other riders chanced attacks off the front, with cooperation lacking in the group chasing Durbridge. Brendon Davids (Oliver’s Real Food Racing) went solo, followed by Kane Richards (MEIYO CCN), but both were recpatured by the chasing group.

Durbridge gap was to continue to grow to a maximum of four minutes, as the chasing group swelled to 40 riders, and was finally pegged as Inform TMX MAKE went to the front of the group to mount some sort of consistent chase, other teams joining with 30 kilometres remaining.

In the heat, Durbridge was battling the heat and conditions more than the other riders, salt stains evident as he poured water over his head and regularly took on new bidons.

The Durbridge juggernaut continued at the head of the race as he comfortably came into the finish in Tanunda to claim the win, two and a half minutes ahead of the peloton.

The battle for second heated up behind Durbridge, with a few attacks on the final climb threatening briefly before the 25-rider chase recaptured them. A three man attack of Freienstein, Howson and Chris Harper (Cervelo-Tonsley Village) made it clear in the closing kilometres, with Freienstein just kicking clear of Howson in the finish to claim second.

By Jamie Finch-Penninger