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by Shane Stokes
March 30, 2017
Photography by Shane Stokes
Describing himself as very frustrated shortly after crossing the finish line on Wednesday, Luke Durbridge has chosen to focus on the positives for the remainder of the Three Days of De Panne-Koksijde and beyond.
The Australian is secure in the belief that his form is exactly where it needs to be to chase important victories, and accepts it was tactics rather than anything else that cost him the chance of overall victory.
Because of that, he is able to remain upbeat about upcoming races, including Thursday’s time trial in De Panne, plus the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix Classics.
“Trek just split it there in the Muur section,” he told CyclingTips and a handful of other journalists at the finish in Koksijde. “I was not in too bad position. But a few guys losing the wheel in front of you and, before you know it, the gap has opened up. QuickStep had all their guys there and we had none. But you live and you learn.
“A few guys couldn’t hold the wheel and that was it. I had to chase pretty hard and never really got there. That’s the way it is.”
Durbridge finished an impressive second to former world champion Philippe Gilbert on Tuesday’s opening stage, rolling across the line 17 seconds back but the same margin ahead of the next riders.
However his chances of staying in the frame took one knock when he missed the split which arose after a series of climbs plus a section of strong winds. The second blow was Orica-Scott’s lack of horsepower at the race. The team started with just six riders, two less than most other teams, and lost Chris Juul-Jensen.
That meant Durbridge had just four supporting him on Wednesday morning, and this proved not to be enough to get him back on terms.
“The split was really frustrating,” he elaborated. “When the wind is at that angle and the stress [is on], it was…it is a bit of a roll of the dice, really. I would prefer if it was actually hard racing, more climbs. Then you get a true bunch at the front.
“But that is the way it is. It is my own fault, I should have been in a better position. That’s it, I lost De Panne because of that. But I’ll get over that and will move on.”
Thursday’s concluding race against the clock had some tipping Durbridge for the overall win. That now won’t happen but, rather than being despondent, he’s choosing to look on the bright side.
He knows he’s in impressive shape, and is determined to use it in the days and weeks ahead.
“The condition is good,” he said, speaking with quiet self-assurance. “Obviously you could see yesterday how I was going. I am bitterly disappointed to lose it that way. But I will get over this today, and then I will race tomorrow. So it will be fine.”
Asked if he considered the win to be possible in the time trial, he showed that he is certainly thinking that way.
“I like the course. I am going to give it a really good crack. [Going for the win] would be ideal. I’m aiming to get through tomorrow morning’s stage – that is always stressful. Then I’ll roll the dice and hopefully I can have a good TT.”
Part of his self-assurance comes from his showing on stage one plus the sensations he felt on Wednesday, but another important component is his showing in recent weeks.
At the start of March he finished sixth in Strade Bianche, then he went on to fourth in both the Dwars Door Vlaanderen and the E3 Harelbeke.
He said that those performances had given him greater belief.
“I have been working really hard. But you never really know [how it will go]…these races require a bit of luck as well.
“Once I got the confidence from there, I realised that I can race in the front now, which is nice for me. Before I didn’t think that was possible, but now I have had some really consistent rides.”
So, given his improvement, what does he put it down to? Has he done something different over the winter, or is it simply the case that the 25 year old is gradually inching closer to his prime years as an athlete?
“I think it is an extra year, getting older,” he answered. “I haven’t really changed a hell of a lot in my training.
“I definitely think it is confidence and not using so much nervous energy. As a young guy you are always stressing about position and things like that.
“Okay, I shot myself in the foot today, but that’s the way it is.”
If things go to plan, he’ll bounce back on Thursday and prove a point by winning the 14.2 kilometre race against the clock. But, even more importantly, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are looming, and he believes he can be a factor in each of them.
“I am going to go really hard for both,” he said. “Obviously we have got some good guys with [Jens] Keukeleire running second in Gent-Wevelgem, and also with [Mat] Hayman winning Roubaix last year. So we have got a really good team.
“We have got options, and hopefully GreenEdge can put a guy on the podium.”