Riding high: Luke Durbridge at the Australian road cycling national titles in Ballarat.DEFENDING their national time-trial titles, Luke Durbridge and Shara Gillow confirmed themselves as leaders in the craft and delivered for their Orica-GreenEDGE team on the opening day of the Australian road championships.
Reticent to discuss her exceptional sporting attributes, Gillow clearly prefers to let her results do the talking. But by becoming national champion for a third consecutive year in the race against the clock, the 25-year-old Queenslander is the first to match the 1994 achievement of Olympic gold medallist Kathy Watt.
While Watt won a further two national time-trial titles, and also claimed a staggering four national road race crowns, there is nothing to suggest Gillow, who placed 13th in the time trial at last year’s London Olympics, cannot beat the feat over the shorter distance.
Her time of 38 minutes, 36:59 seconds for the 29.2kilometre exercise around Ballarat’s Lake Wendouree on Wednesday was more than a minute quicker than next-best Grace Sulzberger (39:46.23) – herself a great success story given her recovery from an eating disorder than very nearly killed her.
Thirty-five-year-old Felicity Wardlaw (39:57.23), a rower-turned-mountain bike rider who has recently taken up road cycling, was a surprise bronze medallist, beating former national time-trial champions Carla Ryan (9th in 40:38.66) and Bridie O’Donnell (10th in 40:49.46).
Widely viewed as having comparable gifts for time-trialling as four-time world champion, Olympic gold medallist and eight-time Tour de France stage winner Fabian Cancellara, 21-year-old Durbridge confessed to feeling pressure before defending his title. A minor fall in training on Tuesday would have done nothing to soothe the anxiety, but in a strong field that included fellow European pros Richie Porte and Jack Bobridge, the under-23 world time trial champion of 2011 won by posting a time of 43:26.71 for the 37 kilometres.
”It was a very important race for me today,” Durbridge said after averaging 51.1km/h. ”I knew if I didn’t win it would have been a bit of a disappointment. When I was halfway around the lake I was in the real suffer zone, so I knew today was a good day.”
The consensus is that Durbridge’s potential is boundless and Rohan Dennis, making his nationals debut in the elite category before entering his first season riding with professional team Garmin, said his silver medal felt like gold given the competition. Dennis’s time was 21.2 seconds off the winning pace.
”To finish second to him is almost as good as winning in most countries,” Dennis, a silver medallist on the track at the London Olympics who was also king in both the under-23 time trial and road race in 2012, said.
Michael Matthews, happy to make his debut in Orica GreenEDGE colours after leaving the old Rabobank team, was third in 44:11.85, narrowly beating Porte (44:14.86) to the podium.
”I didn’t expect to get on the podium today,” Matthews said. ”I raced as hard as I could and winning a medal was awesome for me as I’m not really a typical time-trialler.”
It was daylight to the rest after that, with Jacob Kauffmann 2:43.6 off the winner’s pace in fifth place, and Bobridge a disappointing 18th with a time more than four minutes slower than Durbridge’s.
THURSDAY: Criterium events. Sturt Street, Ballarat. Under 23 men: 4.30pm. Under 23 and elite women: 5.45pm. Elite men: 7pm.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.