Michael Hepburn recorded a blistering 47.8 kph average pace around the Ballarat circuit to take his first national road title ahead of two-time defending champion Luke Durbridge and Under 23 World Time Trial Champion Damian Howson.
“It’s fantastic for us – a clean sweep of the podium doesn’t happen very often,” said Sport Director Matt Wilson. “We knew it was a possibility, but we didn’t expect it. Heppy getting the win is the big surprise today. But he has targeted this race and he’s a multiple World Champion on the track, so he knows how to come up at the right time for an event, and he’s done an incredible ride today.”
As the back-to-back winner of this event, Luke Durbridge entered today’s race as the overwhelming favorite. With an ominous 30″ second lead over Hepburn at the halfway mark, it seemed that the favorite was on track for a third consecutive victory. But Hepburn stepped up a notch in the second 22 kilometers of the race, clawing back an astonishing 42” over his teammate Durbridge, to take a convincing 12” win.
“It’s a bit of a surprise, but this is the perfect start to the year,” said Hepburn. “It was in the back of my mind to do a good ride here, but I was thinking more along the lines of a podium than the win. Given the quality of the field and the fact that some of these guys have much better TT results than me, winning wasn’t something I expected. I have only won one prologue before, so it’s very special for me to get the win.”
Hepburn’s win has ensured the Australian National Time Trial Champion jersey will stay with ORICA-GreenEDGE for the third consecutive season.
“Taking this jersey to Europe for the season was one of the first things I thought about,” recalled Hepburn. “It’s a great feeling to know that I get to wear the green and gold this season. I’m really hopeful that this will give me the confidence I need to target more time trial wins going forward. Hopefully this is a sign of some good things to come for me this year.”
As two-time defending champion, anything but the win in this event was going to prove a disappointment for Durbridge.
“I obviously wanted to take the triple, but it just wasn’t to be,” said Durbridge. “You can only do what you can do with the legs you have on the day. Heppy is one of my best friends and a great time trialist, and I’m really happy for him. I still had a good ride. I gave it everything, and I thought it would be enough. But obviously Heppy was on a super ride today, and I’m really proud of him taking the win here.”
“Durbo is a bit disappointed not to get the win,” added Wilson. “He also did a great ride, but Heppy just rode out of his skin today. To put so much time into a time trialist like Durbo over 22 kilometers, Heppy was just extraordinary today.”
Windy conditions and a lack of time-checks proved to be the most mitigating factors in today’s race. One of the early favourites, Australian Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) was a casualty of strong winds on the Ballarat course, crashing out of the race at the midway point.
“I was aware that Rohan (Dennis) had had an issue, and that changed things in my head a bit because he was one of the big favorites,” noted Durbridge. “We needed a bit more information on timing. I knew I was 30” up on Heppy at halfway, but I had no idea where he was after that. He was obviously closing in quickly, but I didn’t have any information, so I just rode as hard as I could to the line and hoped it would be enough. I wasn’t resting on my laurels.”
The men’s team will now look ahead to the weekend, where they will attempt a repeat performance in Sunday’s road race.
“This win definitely gives me a lot of confidence ahead of Sunday, but that course doesn’t suit me, admitted Hepburn. “I don’t go uphill so well. But after today I know I’m in great form and that I’ll be able to feature in the first half of the race where I can really work hard for my teammates. We’ve got so many guys that could do well, but I’m not harboring any individual aspirations.”