LUKE Durbridge’s transformation from time-trial specialist to classics contender will undergo its biggest test when he tries to become the first Australian to win the Tour of Flanders.
Durbridge will enter the race that stops Belgium in the form of his life, having taken sixth at Strade Bianche and fourth at both Dwars Door Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke.
“The most exciting aspect for me is that no Australian has ever won Flanders … but I’ve only got two fourth places in classics so let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Durbridge said.
“But it’s a dream I’ve always had and I’m excited. It’s the first time my parents will ever watch me race in Europe so it’s going to be a special day regardless.”
Durbridge, 25, lives in Girona, Spain, but his determination to join the one-day elite has seen him set up camp in the Belgian city of Ghent with wife Lara for the month-long classics campaign
“It’s about learning the roads and the climbs,” he said. “(Teammate) Mitch Docker and I both decided to bring a coach over, got ourselves settled and both our wives are here.
“For us, it keeps us sane knowing you’re going home to a home-cooked meal and you get to hang out with your missus the next day and rest up.”
Durbridge’s willingness to relocate offers an insight into his meticulous nature after he burst onto the pro scene in 2012 before enduring a “dry spell”.
The rangy rider familiar with working for others is having a breakout season on the cobbles among the superstars of the sport.
“When there’s only 450 professionals you do well to be in that 450,” he said. “There’s a temptation to think that maybe you’re not one of those top 100 who wins races and you just work hard and that’s your limit.
“You’ve just got to keep believing that you can do it and be up with those guys. I had a few moments in Strade Bianche where I thought, ‘These guys aren’t riding away like they have in the past’.
“I’ve worked really hard to get to this point … for probably three years now I’ve been trying to become a classics rider and now it’s finally come to a point where maybe that win isn’t too far away.”
— ORICA-SCOTT (@OricaScott) March 28, 2017
A major part of the transformation has been Durbridge’s greater understanding of his strengths and weaknesses.
“I’m never going to be that guy who explodes out of the bunch on a climb like a (Peter) Sagan. That’s just not in my physiology,” he said.
“I either ride a really good position or let them go away and don’t put myself too much in the red so I can come back. That’s my ability; to constantly come back and you’ve seen in these races that I get gapped, but then eventually I’m back in the front again.
“I’ve always been strong, but I’ve never known how to use my strengths to race these races.”
— Matthew Keenan (@mwkeenan) March 28, 2017
— The 3 Domestiques (@3domestiques) March 28, 2017
Originally published as Durbridge eyes toughest test