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Back in 2007 Darren Lapthorne won the Australian national road race championships with a solo attack 14km from the finish. Seven years on, Lapthorne took to 2014 nationals road race at the head of a 13-strong Drapac squad that was desperate to start its first year as a reborn ProConti squad in style. We caught up with “Lappers” after the race in which he finished sixth, just 23 seconds behind the winner, Simon Gerrans.
Well done on your sixth place (behind the likes of Gerrans, Evans, Porte, Meyer and Bobridge). Were you happy with your race?
Initially when I crossed the finish line my first feelings were of a little bit of disappointment. I really thought I had a good shot at a podium. I was feeling really good, even up to the last lap.
But once I went away and had a look at the results and the guys in front of me I couldn’t be disappointed. They’re the best in the world and I think I still had a good race and the team rode really well.
So looking back I am pleased with the result and I take a lot from it, especially now that we’ve got [the Tour] Down Under. That’s a real bonus. In the past we’d finish the nationals and there’s not really any racing for a couple of months afterwards.
You put all that hard work into one race and then you almost have to restart your training when the season starts, whether it’s in Europe or in Australia.
You had a good crack in the last lap of Sunday’s race. Can you talk us through those final kilometers?
In the last three laps [the TV coverage] probably didn’t show much but it was quite aggressive every time up the climb in the peloton. I definitely used a lot of energy then, going with moves.
We were being told by our director Henk [Vogels] to start making our moves because the breakaway wasn’t looking like it was going to be successful and Simon Clarke was up the road.
So with about three laps to go I really started giving it a dig every time up the climb and on the last lap I felt quite good coming into it and I gave it a good go there.
It looked like the group was content with the GreenEDGE guys just riding on the front and I thought “this isn’t good for us — we’ve really got to start whacking it a bit so at least then there will only be five guys going over the top of the climb, not a group of 10-15”.
With Steele [von Hoff] and [Jack] Bobridge and really good sprinters there I thought “it’s now or never – we have to make this race.”
Initially I went up the climb and it was a block headwind. I felt quite good and then I could see the peloton — or what was left of the bunch — wasn’t giving me much space and they caught up to me.
I thought I recovered fairly well but once Cadel [Evans] and [Simon] Gerrans really put the hammer down on the second part of the hill it was just a matter of getting over the crest and trying to limit my losses as much as possible. I was lucky I was with two strong riders in Mark O’Brien and Jack Bobridge.
You and Mark O’Brien used to race together on Drapac. In situations like that do you look out for each other or is it man against man?
It’s man against man, for sure. He really impressed me — I think he was one of the most impressive guys in the race. With five laps to go he started attacking the race and he loves that course — he’s so strong on that course as well. And when I went over the crest for the last time with Mark I knew I was with the right guy — he would definitely commit to the finish line.
And then when Bobridge caught up to us I thought “we’ve actually got a chance of catching the guys in front” [Gerrans, Evans, Porte and Meyer] and at one point we were only 100m off the back of them.
I think that’s when they started turning around and realising that they’d have to commit to the finish as well, otherwise we would catch them.
You told me before that you were pushing about 500 watts up the climb for the first few laps. Can you talk us through that?
The first laps I was looking at my power meter and I thinking “this is really on”. I sort of realised that I couldn’t do it 18 times at that level of power. That’s what’s going through your mind.
The race was quite aggressive — the breakaway didn’t establish until about the third lap so every time up Buninyong the pace was on and it’s always going through the back of your mind that “gee, we’ve still got a long way to go in this race.”
But at the same time I guess I realised that all the other riders were in the same situation. Even if you’re riding in the peloton, it was strung out, and if I’m pushing that number of watts everyone else is, whether that’s Gerro or Cadel or Richie. We’re all in the same boat in that situation.
Having won the race in 2007, how motivated were you coming into this year’s race?
I think every year I’m fairly motivated but this time I just had a little bit extra, especially knowing that I had TDU and also that we’ve stepped up to ProContinental. I made the decision quite a few months ago that I was only going to have a short break after my last race [last season], which was the Tour of Hainan [in October], and really focus on the nationals and the early part of [this] season.
I’ve found that my best seasons are usually when I’ve started the season off well. So I really wanted to commit to the nationals. I really think I can back myself, especially being 18 laps — it suits me ever more [ed. compared to last year’s course which started with long, flatter laps before hitting the Mt. Buninyong circuit].
I’m pleased that I [made that commitment] because I’m satisfied with the way I rode and with my current form and I think those couple of months of really hard work have really paid off.
Were those couple months of build-up any different to in previous years?
I think it changes every year. My coach Stuart Morgan is quite good with adjusting my training depending on where I am. Seven years on from the nationals when I won it, my training has changed a lot from back then. So we have made some adjustments and there are some things I really wanted to focus on.
We did make a few subtle changes but I did still mainly focus on my base. The endurance k’s were really what I focused on and most riders do that in November/December.
So the majority of my training was base however really in the last two weeks leading up to the nationals I ramped up the intensity. I had a training camp at Bright which was really beneficial I think.
Previously I’ve done the Bay Crits and that’s really good for a rider like me — those explosive efforts out of the corners really seem to help me. But we were lucky enough in Bright to have a motorbike there and we did a lot of motorpacing and short-sharp efforts up the climbs so I think that really paid off.
— Darren Lapthorne (@darrenlapthorne) January 12, 2014
It really sounds like there’s a renewed energy and good vibe amongst you guys, with the excitement of stepping up to ProConti level.
The energy within the team is amazing. I think we all know each other fairly well — a lot of the guys have either raced against each other or been on the same team previously, so that was a big advantage.
The first day of the training camp it was like we’d been a team for a full season already and we’re relaxed, we’re all pumped, we’re all really looking forward to the season. There’s a lot of expectation on us but I think we’re all approaching that really well.
It’s a new opportunity for a lot of guys. Even guys like Travis [Meyer] and Wes [Sulzberger] and myself, we’re probably seen more as the leaders in the team and we’ve got really great opportunities to show what we’re made of this year in big races.
I think we’re all highly motivated and we really want to show the cycling world what we can do. Hopefully that’s a good thing for cycling in Australia as well. We want this team to be successful and we want to see more teams taking the step up and I think Australia has the talent to do that.
What are your expectations for the Tour Down Under?
I really wanted to see how my form was on Sunday before I made any decisions. I think we will be quite aggressive; the whole team will be, like we were on Sunday. But I’d also really like to give it a shot for GC. I think if I ride a smart race and have help from the team I can really get a decent result.
We’ll still be taking it day-by-day but the Tour Down Under’s quite a hilly tour now — there are a few really good stages that suit my characteristics.
Which stages in particularly are you looking to target?
I think the obvious one would be Willunga [ed. stage 5, which finishes at the top of Willunga Hill.] [That will be a case of] whatever I’ve got left in the tank on what is the last day of the Tour that really decides GC.
It might still be a sprint at the finish but it’s a day you could easily lose a lot of time on. I think they’re the three key days but ultimately Willunga is the day and it depends on who’s looked after themselves best up to that point.
So after the Tour Down Under, what do you have planned?
Then it’s off to the Herald Sun Tour.
And after that?
We have a bit of a proposed program but we’re waiting on invites. As a ProContinental team we really rely on invites and often they can be last-minute. I know we’ve got a couple of races that have been confirmed but the team hasn’t announced those races yet.
But personally it looks like I’ll have a very busy program from May onwards. So I’ll definitely be having a break after the Sun Tour; just a short rest, and then I really hope for a strong mid to second part of the season.