Heppy and Durbo-Class of 2015
Forget Contador and Ullrich, the big cycling story in Australia, for the first part of the season at any rate, is the emergence of GreenEDGE cycling, our very own World Tour team. The financial backers of the team have indicated that they are prepared to back the squad for a period of three years. Assuming the team lasts that long in the fickle world of professional cycling, what will GreenEDGE look like when it enters season 2015?
For starters we know that Robbie McEwen and Stuart O’Grady will no longer be there. Robbie has already said that he will retire this year and as you read this, he will no doubt be mentally packing his bags. I say Stuey won’t be there, but I have a personal suspicion that Stuey and Jens Voigt have a bet on to see who lasts the longest. The winner gets a week on Henk Vogels’ farm near Gympie rounding up the cows.
After that comes Julian Dean who will be 40 in 2015, Matt Wilson (37) and Baden Cooke who will be 36, so lets put a red line through them and for the sake of argument say that the big guns on the team will be Matt Goss at 29 years of age, Jack Bobridge (26) and Cam Meyer at 24. In between, other riders will come and go, make their mark and even become household names. But what I thought would be really interesting and perhaps the most exciting, would be to have a look at the two youngest members of GreenEDGE, Michael Hepburn and Luke Durbridge.
For us here in Australia those two names are quite familiar, but apart from the diehard track fans, the rest of the world are only now starting to look at these two twenty-year-olds. Michael of course broke the U19 3,000m pursuit world record on no less than three occasions in 2009. He also has a gold and a bronze Commonwealth Games medal on the track as well as a rainbow jersey. Luke Durbridge has also had track success but surprised the world when he finished under two seconds behind Taylor Phinney at the U23 Time Trial in the World Championships inGeelong. With that sort of form it’s no wonder that he went in as favourite for the U23 time trail at the World Championships inCopenhagen. Michael Hepburn taking out third place in the same event was the icing on the cake. I caught up with both riders at the Adelaide Superdrome earlier this year as they continued their preparation for the round of track World Cups.
Bicycling Australia: Guys, coming into the World Championships, Luke was pretty short odds for victory in the U23 Time Trial. And Michael, you hadn’t done that much time trialling prior to the event. How did you feel going into race day? Nervous?
Michael Hepburn: For me, I hadn’t been time trialling properly for a long time. It was only my second time trial of the year over a decent distance. I’d done a couple earlier in the year and they were four, six and 11km. So, yeah, it was what you might call an interesting feeling.
BA: It was a fairly tight course.
MH: Yeah, it was. It was a long course, quite fast and a bit technical as well. But I was excited to get out there and hurt myself for 40 minutes. It was something I hadn’t done before so I was looking forward to it. I had ambitions, but I didn’t put too much pressure on myself because I knew those other guys were the favourites. I just wanted to get out there and have a good ride. Luke was the favourite but we spent a lot of time together beforehand, although with slightly different programs. He was focussed a lot more on the time trial while I was also entered in the U23 road race. With his great result the year before he was the man to beat.
Luke Durbridge: It’s probably the most nervous I’ve ever been because the year before I got second to Phinney, by 1.9 seconds. You know, really close. And then throughout the year I went to Nationals and then a few time trials that I went well in and even won. So the building up process was pretty long. I was thinking this was the one that I really want to win. So there was more pressure on me from everyone around me because they knew I was a pretty good shot. And I didn’t want to let them down, or let myself down. So there was more pressure than usual, but as soon as the countdown begins you have to put it out of your mind. But you know, once on the bike it was gone. I was into the rhythm and it was out of my mind. I had time checks in my ear and I knew throughout the whole race that I was up and that made it a bit easier. It doesn’t mean that you back off, but if you’re down on time then there’s the pressure of trying to bring yourself back up. It makes a difference because say you’re 50 seconds down in a time trial, well you can’t do anything about that. In a time trial you’re obviously always going as full gas as you can. So you can’t suddenly change gears and pull 50 seconds out. The only real difference is when, say you’re a minute up, you can say to yourself, OK, no risks now and make sure you don’t push and pull so much in the corners. Making sure you get the win. Like in the Tour with Cadel and I think Tony Martin, I think the guys said, “no risk now, you’ve won the Tour, let’s get home.” That’s what’s good about the radio, it doesn’t make you go faster, but it gives you good information that you can act on. Bradley Wiggins didn’t even ride with a radio this year because in the past, people sitting in the car had been giving him false times, either to motivate him or if they didn’t have the correct info they just said anything and gave him other times. So he said “I’m just going to race at my wattage from A to B. That’s what I’m going to do.”
BA: You’d feel a bit dirty if you found out someone had been doing that to you wouldn’t you?
LD: Well my instruction to whoever is in the car is just, “Whatever information you’ve got, just tell me. That’s it. I don’t care if I’m a minute down, just tell me. If I’m up, just tell me.” I don’t need motivation while I’m out there. If you’re not on your game, then you’re not on your game.
BA: How many times did you get to go around the course inCopenhagen?
LD: I rode it once beforehand, that’s all.
BA: You looked a little bit iffy on the cobbles.
LD: Yeah, those cobbles were pretty rough. I guess by the second lap I was in that ‘don’t take any risks’ zone and the thing is that when you came into them it was quite hard to gauge. You’d hit the cobbles coming into the left and then while you were still on them you’d have to commit pretty heavily to the right. So you had to kind of half arse to the left so you could hit the right hander at speed. That’s why Cancellara hit the barriers because he committed too much to the left hander and was out of position on the right.
BA: Michael, you finished third. But looking at the times, your crash possibly lost you second place.
MH: Well, possibly. I guess you can say that, but in hindsight, there’s no point in looking at it that way. If I hadn’t crashed, then the second placed rider, Rasmus Christian Quaade, may have taken more risks knowing my time through the radio. You just don’t know. Personally I didn’t have a radio but I know he did. I went off quite early so I wouldn’t have had the time checks of any of the top riders so there wasn’t much point having one. When I came through the finish I was a minute and a half faster than anyone else, that’s how early I went off.
BA: What’s it like sitting in the hot seat like that for so long? You were there for a while this year and I remember Luke was there for about two hours inGeelong.
MH: It’s not so bad, though it was a bit different this year because I’d just had the crash so my emotions were a bit all over the place. Very up and down. I knew that if there was a chance I would get beaten then it would probably come from the last couple of riders. So I just had to sit there and wait.
BA: When you crash in a race like that, what goes through your head as you pick yourself up? In a road race you’ve got your car there and teammates to pull you back into the bunch. But in a TT, you just have to climb back on. And how do you deal with the adrenalin and the raised heart rate etc?
MH: There’s only really one thing I remember from it and that was when I hit the deck I thought “What’s just happened?” Because it’s not something that you expect to happen in a time trial. It’s not something that you prepare for in any way. You just go from a fairly good ride and suddenly everything switches and you have to deal with the realisation that your dream is slipping away. It’s quite tough. But at the same time I wasn’t going to chuck the towel in. I just had to get straight back up and get back into a rhythm. So, then the next couple of kilometres are a bit difficult. You’re full of adrenalin, you’ve just crashed, your mind is thinking a thousand things and that’s what I struggled with, finding that rhythm again. And cornering. Because I’d just crashed on a corner for the next couple of corners I just lost the plot. A lot people say that happens when they crash in a crit or a road race, that they really struggle to have the confidence going through the corners at a speed that maybe 10 minutes ago they would have done fine.
BA: Luke, let’s go back to your early days of racing. I believe you started riding in triathlons. What got you into cycling? I remember seeing you at the track nationals at Dunc Gray in 2008 and you looked OK then.
LD: Yeah, I was a junior then. But I got into it through triathlon when I was about 14. I didn’t like the swimming because I couldn’t swim well. Cycling was my best leg. In my swim I would start with the men and the women would be starting 30 seconds later. And I remember one time that I got out of the water thinking I was in front and actually the men had thumped me, the women had caught me and I got out surrounded by women! I was pulling out really good times on the bike but I’m a bit big for running and if you’re playing catch-up on the bike it’s hard to run well. So I thought, I’ll go down the track and give it a go. Daryl Benson was down there for the talent identification for WAIS and he just put me straight in. And it went from there, through the club system, through the institute and I rode with Plan B. From there it was straight into the Jayco-AIS team.
BA: Tell me a bit about that first team pursuit victory in 2008. There’d been a lot of flack about how the Olympic team was chosen that year. But afterwards there was a bit of a renaissance, a kind of ‘out with the old, in with the new’. What was the feeling in the squad at that time?
LD: There was me, Jack, Heppy,Camand Travis, Rohan Dennis, Leigh Howard, Glenn O’Shea a few other guys. It was for me a hard transition straight up because I was still a first year U19. So I was straight into the senior program before I’d even finished juniors to try to wean me in a bit. So I did my first World Cup with Mark Jamieson, Jack, Rohan and Cameron when I was still a junior, so I got thrown around a bit. Big K’s and big gears but I think it was very good for me because the next year I was still in juniors but still doing the senior program but the year after that I was still developing more and now I’ve made the squad.
BA: With you guys being the same or at least similar ages, do you feel a certain camaraderie?
LD: Oh yeah, I definitely think there’s a lot of that. Some of the times coming out of track camps have been really good. When you’ve got eight guys going for four spots, it’s funny how we are all still really good mates, and you would think that would be the case because you’ve got this guy pushing that guy out and so on. But it’s not like that at all because everyone really wantsAustraliato win, that’s the first thing. Like, when I was in my first year I did six months of track. I did Beijing World Cup and I did Melbourne World Cup and then the week before the Worlds I missed out. They came up to me and said, “You didn’t make the team, you’re heading home.” And I’d done so much track, more even than some of the other guys who did go and I was like, “Bloody hell, that hurts”, but then they went on and smacked the Poms and I realised that those guys, their level wouldn’t have been that high if it wasn’t for me and the other guys who missed out pushing them all the way. So you can take it as a team victory. And it happened last year the same way, but this year I’ve cracked that team so it paid off. And now we’re all in the same road team and it’s worked out well because we’re all such good mates. It’s like,Camwouldn’t have to tell me how he’s feeling on the road, I’d just know. Same with Jack or Heppy, I’d just know and they’re the same with me. That makes for a good atmosphere.
BA: Michael, for you your big moment was setting the world record in the U19 3,000m individual pursuit and breaking it again after that. What was people’s reaction to that? Surprise? Did you think it was going to happen?
MH: Not at all (laughs). I had no idea. It was actually right here (in the Adelaide Superdrome) and at the time I don’t think I even had any idea what the record actually was. At no time in my preparation had that even crossed my mind. I didn’t even believe I was close to anything that a record might be. I’d raced a few weeks before and posted a time of 3:20. Then the next two weeks I trained quite hard and was aiming for a time of 3:18. And then I was up against Dale Parker who was the favourite having ridden 3:17, so he was the favourite. But one thing I tend to do in races is I like to look across the track at the other rider. That kind of boosts me to race against that other rider instead of a time, which isn’t always the best thing, but it works for me.
BA: So you do ‘the stare’?
MH: Yeah, it’s something I’ve kind of gotten into the habit of doing. I prefer to race someone rather than going out to post a time. And then, that time (the time of the world record) after about two kilometres I began to realise that I was coming back at him and actually overtaking him which gave me a lot of confidence. Then my coach was screaming and I went down the back straight here (pointing) and across the finish line, and I had a mate, Jordan Kirby, who the whole ride was standing in bend three just shouting “Go for it!” and as I went through bend three I just heard Jordan shout out “World Record!” and I remember rolling around into the front straight and the bloody scoreboard here was flashing ‘World Record’ and (pauses for a bit), yeah. It was a bit of a surprise, but a nice surprise. But as you said, it was a bit of a big moment for me as I’d only been riding the track for about 12 months, a huge confidence booster.
BA: What had you been doing before those 12 months?
MH: I’d been racing on the road inBrisbanefor about two years and the year before I’d made the Junior Worlds team and went toItalywith Dave Sanders. But I didn’t start riding track until first year U19. I just didn’t get into it inBrisbane. Then I trained for a bit, got some average results at the Nationals, which made me really motivated to come back and make that Worlds team. That’s what was pushing me in the training before I broke the junior record, to make that team.
BA: You broke three records I think? All in the 3,000m pursuit.
MH: Yeah, I broke the first one at the Superdome but the big goal then was the Junior Worlds. I broke that record again in qualifying and then once again in the final.
BA: Luke, 2008 was a bit of a breakout year with that team pursuit, but 2010 and 2011 were even better. Coming second behind Phinney inGeelong, do you think that’s when the world began to notice you a bit more?
LD: I think that was the case. I was junior world TT champion, but you know, there are so many Australian junior champions. ThatGeelongrace was important to me though. I really wanted to make that team so I opted out of the Commonwealth Games so I could focus onGeelongand I think that’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I was still committed to the track but I felt I needed a bit more of a road season. I went toGeelongand if someone had have said tomorrow “you’re going to win the silver medal” I would’ve taken it. I was aiming at top 10. That would’ve have been enough, but to get silver by 1.9 seconds, I wasn’t ready for that at all. And it made me sit up a bit and think, hey, I can do this, I can make a go of it. Because at 14 you’ve got no idea if you’re turning pro or not, but a result like that opens a lot of doors, both career-wise and mentally. So a week later I went and won a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games TT simply on the back of thatGeelongresult. Millar was chasing me at one minute and he caught me about 10 metres from the line. And the way Millar was going, he was in the form of his life and I held him off all that way. So I thought, I’m not far off, maybe when I get older and bigger and wiser and all that sort of stuff, I might do OK. And TT, I wouldn’t mind focussing on it, making it my specialty. Look at Cancellara, he’s made a career of it, but still managed to be a bloody good road rider too.
BA: How difficult is it to deal with the sudden, for a better word, fame? I mean you’ve suddenly got loads of people that you’ve never met coming at you, wanting you to do things or sign contracts?
MH: I didn’t find it too bad. You need to put it into perspective because for me it was a junior world record andAustraliaproduces a lot of very talented junior riders, especially on the track. They have a huge focus on that which I think is very good and I think it’s a reason why the senior team on the track is so strong, because over the last 10 years they’ve excelled in the junior ranks. So yeah, it was a world record, but it was a junior world record so I didn’t get too carried away with it. I was focussed on a junior World Championship. If I was going to get that then I knew I would probably have to break the record, but the record wasn’t what I was focussed on. Tim Dekker and Kevin Tabotta were very good at that. They kept reminding me that a record can be taken away from you at any time, but a rainbow jersey is yours forever.
LD: I think the AIS is good at keeping your feet on the ground. Everyone is very happy when you’ve had a good result, it’s that whole team thing. But they’re good at keeping you moving forward, focussing on the next goal. There’s no specific strategy for handling hanger-oners, but by keeping your head level it helps you do that anyway. If you get a good result on the road for example, they go “right, we need you on the track next week.” And for the first part of that track, you get your head kicked because you’re still in road mode. And the same, coming from the track to the road. You don’t get a chance to get above yourself. They do that very well. And I don’t think it would be possible to get the sort of results we’re achieving if you were trying to do it on your own. All the support people at the AIS have known you since you were small and they know how you work, so they can tell you things straight. They don’t need to flatter you.
BA: Michael, a lot was written in the press about being pulled from the Tour de l’Avenir so we won’t go into it too much here. But tell me about the headbutting. It’s becoming an Aussie speciality. You’ve joined a list of luminaries such as Mark Renshaw and Robbie McEwen. But they said you gave five headbutts in 10 seconds. That’s pretty good going. Do you think Aussie riders doing an apprenticeship on the track makes them a bit immune to using their heads?
MH: It could be. Yeah, I think so. Ummm…look at Mark Renshaw. He was a very talented track rider. But sprinting on the road is a very fine line and often there isn’t consistency with the rules. For example if someone’s leaning on you, what are you expected to do, just crash? Because you’re not allowed to take your hands off the bars in a sprint. I think headbutting is wrong, but there’s always going to be contact and if someone is about to shut the door on you then you have to stand your ground and hold strong and the head becomes almost a panic reaction. If you talk to any sprinter there’s always contact in some form. At Avenir we tried to talk to the race officials but they weren’t having any of it. I just had to suck it up. When I first heard about the decision I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was so far out there. I didn’t think anything had really happened on the road, or even went close to happening. It was a bit of a shock but the decision was made and I had to accept it, however unjust.
BA: Tell me what your two roles will be at GreenEDGE this year and in the future. The staff must know the two of you inside out by now.
MH: This year being an Olympic year, 100% of my goal is the track and fortunately that is also the aim of GreenEDGE with the young riders. To give us the best possible opportunities to arrive inLondonwith the best form possible. So I’ll be doing some road races early in the season, April, May and June. That’s to prepare me to get some fitness and racing legs so I’m ready when I get back on the track. My actual role in those races I won’t know until we come to them, but it’s a slightly different ball game for me. I’m 15 years younger than some of those guys and their results speak for themselves. I’ll definitely be a helper and I’m looking forward to that. That said, I’m needing to learn off guys like Robbie and Stuey while they’re still around.
Next year I won’t be on the track. So it will be a time to see what I can do there over a few years. I’m not saying I’ll never come back to the track, but afterLondon, depending how we go, I’ll step back from it for a few years. It’ll be a slow progression before I start to get the results I want further down the road. That’s if I get them. The opportunities won’t be there to ride for myself for a while, but that’s fine. Everybody needs to do their apprenticeship and you know, you get a lot of joy seeing a teammate win when you know you’ve done a good job for them and GreenEDGE has a strong culture of togetherness.
LD: It’s a similar story for me, not too much pressure this year. I’m still not 100% sure of my program. There’s some structure leading into the Olympics, but no longer on the track. I’m looking at Tour of Norway, Tour of Slovenia, and obviously the Olympics complicated things because it was the main goal. But now I will focus on the road and see what happens. GreenEDGE are good about that because they were prepared to allow me to hit the Olympics with really good form, they don’t over-race you but also make sure you get some quality racing. So I’ll get a couple of small tours and hopefully a time trial. The only opportunities I want to take for myself are in time trials and for the rest I want to support the team and figure out my role from there. But if I get in a time trial I just want to go as hard as I can.
BA: How has the team gelled so far in your opinion? Sometimes when riders that have already carved out careers on their own come together there can be tension. Has there been any of that?
MH: The thing is that a lot of these guys have raced together on National teams before and a lot of them came through AIS U23 programs together so everyone knows each other quite well and that really helps when it comes time to sacrifice yourself for your teammate. On a foreign team you might not know everyone that well, so while professionally in one of those teams you’d be expected to lay it on the line for your teammate, in this team, you’re also laying it on the line for your best mate. And it makes a difference. Luke and I have lived together for a few years together, been through the same program and lived together inVareseand we know each other in the same way that say, Matt Wilson and Baden Cooke know each other, or Svein Tuft and Christian Meier.
BA: And longer term, what would you really like to achieve? Do you see yourselves as long Tour type riders, as classics riders or Quatar type riders?
MH: Well that’s another thing. I think over the next few years I’ll have more of an idea. In the junior program I’ve been doing some flat events but also some hilly ones inItalyas well as the Tour de l Avenir. I’ve done a bit of everything, but obviously I’m a bigger guy. I’m not one of those tiny little climbers and I’m never going to be able to climb like one of the 60kg Contadors of the sport. That’s just reality. But I think I could be strong in the Classics. They’re something that motivate me and they’re something that I want to focus on, but also the shorter stage races, the week long ones. When I’m fit I can climb OK and I’m a pretty strong time trialist. I guess in the next few years I’ll have more of an idea about that once I get to do those sorts of races, but I think I’d like to go down the Classics path.
LD: I don’t want to pigeonhole myself but time trialling is somewhere that I’ve got most of my results so I want to keep that as a strength. But if that leads me into some one-week tours, then that may be a strength. Or I might try some classics and go well there so I’m really just at the ‘wait and see’ mode right now. We’ll know in a couple of years.