It might be the end of the 2013 season but work is already well underway for 2014. The off-season has come and gone already for most professional cyclists. The dual Australian champion, Luke Durbridge – winner of both the time trial and road race at the nationals – spoke to RIDE about how things went for him while wearing the green and gold jersey, how he prepares for the the season ahead, and some of the finer details of what a young rider “learns” during the formative years in the peloton…
Luke Durbridge – ‘Why not? Let’s have a go at the nationals’
20 November 2013
– Interview by Rob Arnold
RIDE: How was it going into the season as the dual national champion? Did it feel different to 2012 when you were a neo-pro?
Luke Durbridge: “It wouldn’t have mattered if I won the nationals or not, it was always going to feel different. I was going to get over to Europe and know, ‘I’ve done it before…’ but as a first-year I was on a big adventure. Every time I stepped on the bus I got a cool feeling. ‘Oh yeah, I’m riding with Stuey and Gerro…’ and I’m not saying that it loses its appeal but it just seems to be more like thinking, ‘Okay, back to another race…’ – that’s what your attitude can become.
“It was also quite special to be racing as the national champion. I didn’t need to change my kit all year.
“I didn’t really think about it too much through the year but it was quite good to wear the green and gold jersey and I was very proud to have it all year.”
If you review the whole season, what was the most enjoyable moment?
“Obviously, the nationals. It’s hard to incorporate all that happened that week in January with the rest of the season because it seems so long ago. By the time you get to the Tour of Beijing in October, it feels like an entirely different season. Still, if I had to nominate a moment, the highlight was in January and it was in the first couple of days. From that point on, I got some reasonably good results in certain races here and there but it wasn’t like my first season where results seemed to come thick and fast.
“This time, I’d have a result in one race then wait a couple of weeks and get another… but it’s also because I started bigger races.
“All in all, I learned a lot last year. And obviously I wanted to do better than I did – don’t we all sometimes? Still, doing my first Grand Tour [the Giro d’Italia] almost doubled my race days for 2013. I ended up getting about 80 in this year and in 2012, I had 55. It’s nice to know that I’m able to handle that sort of workload and still be racing at a decent level in the Tour of Beijing on 16 October. I was happy to keep it going and keep on top of my form.”
Do you imagine that you’ll go back to the Giro in 2014? Or is the Tour de France waiting for you now?
“I’d love to do the Tour. This year I really got into it – I thought it was a great race. Froome was obviously a level above but the last two years I haven’t really sat down and watched a lot of cycling. Usually I’ll have just come back from racing or training and don’t really like to sit down on the couch to watch cycling. I generally try to switch off as much as possible and separate myself from it. But this year, I pretty much watched every stage. That finish in Paris under lights was awesome – I found a little bit of the kid in me again and I was quite excited about the whole scenario.
“That inspired me and gave me the spark: ‘Next year I really want to go to the Tour!’ So I said that to the team and, at this stage, I think I’ll be starting the Giro because it begins with a team time trial and there’s also the 46km time trial for stage 12. The plan is to really target the TTT and hopefully we [Orica-GreenEdge] can take the leader’s jersey on day one. But I don’t think I’ll do all of the Giro… as I’ll head off and focus for the Tour.
“I’m on the long list for the Tour and there are about 13 guys on that but I’ve got my hand up as high as possible because I really want to ride it. It’s definitely an option: I’m on the team’s radar to do the Tour de France in 2014.”
It seems ridiculous to be talking about May and July when it’s still only November… so let’s shift focus. How dramatic is the off-season for you? If you used to be a 90kg rugby player and, as a cyclist, get yourself down to a race weight of 77kg, how does it work if you step off the bike for a couple of weeks?
“When I stop, I want to do things I can’t do during the season. And so I start eating.
“Usually my body is under so much stress during the season that I’m always fighting to stay at race weight; technically, race weight is probably unhealthy in a normal sense. So, when I stop, I seem to grow pecs and get biceps and before I know it, I’ve put on four or five kilos. I look at myself in the mirror and it looks like I’ve got to have a different wardrobe and get my fat pants out… it’s actually quite weird.
“My mum always says to me, ‘You look really healthy…’ and I know that means: ‘You’ve put on a few kilos…’ So I go: ‘Oh, thanks mum.’
“She doesn’t have the heart to say, ‘You look a bit chubby.’ It’s quite funny though.”
I’ve watched a few pro cyclists get ready for the season and go to the gym for their first core strength sessions. I guess that’s what you’d be going through now…
“Yeah. My hamstrings are actually screaming at me as we speak because I was in the gym yesterday starting to get all the other areas ready – those that you don’t use when you’re cycling: your back, you gluts… I’m trying to get all that firing again properly before I step back on the bike and start doing big kilometres again.
“It’s a period of the season that I actually really enjoy. It’s quite good: I get in the gym and it’s a bit of a change. It’s still training but it’s a switch off for the head because it’s something different.
“I’ve been back in the gym two or three times a week and I’ll probably keep that up all the way up until I head off to Europe again. The first couple of weeks are pretty horrible though. I feel like I’ve been hit with a cricket bat in every area. At the moment, squats aren’t my friend but they’ll eventually start to come good.”
But you wouldn’t be doing big weights would you?
“No, not big at all. It’s quite embarrassing in the gym when you see a little gymnast next to you squatting 100kg or something and the instructor at WAIS gives me a broomstick and gets me to do technique.”
Can you talk through some of the routines that your coach has got you doing?
“I go to the Western Australian Institute of Sport gym and we focus a lot on the posterior muscles. Obviously, as a cyclist, we’re always in a hunched position; our pelvis is rotated underneath and our hip flexors become very short, our hamstrings become very short. So a lot of the exercises are on stretch. For example, RDLs – straight legs, bending from the hips… and, for me, because my hamstrings are so short from cycling, it’s just a hamstring stretch with a bit of weight at the end. I’m trying to activate the right muscles and stretch them out and lengthen the hamstrings back to where they should be.
“In a couple of weeks time, it’s amazing the difference. I can walk up stairs and go for a run even, if I want, and I don’t have any problems.
“It’s something I probably should do during the year but I don’t end up doing it as much because I’m racing so much and I have to recover so much as well.
“There’s a lot of repetition on weights: single-leg leg presses and there are some squats and things like that but in 10-12 reps, not doing maximum three-set squads… it’s pretty much a basic gym program with a lot of core strength work to try and get the back stabilised because it can take a lot of load from cycling.
“If your core is not working, you put a lot of strain on your back.
“I guess it’s a big variety of exercises but it keeps things different and keeps my body from getting injured.
“I love this time of year. It’s always hard for me not to train hard: in Perth it’s 35 degrees, there are great bunch rides, there are great people to ride with, there are great roads and all that sort of stuff… and I find it hard to just sit back and go, ‘Okay, I’m going to do a slow build for the year.’
“I love the nationals and I’m quite patriotic and although a lot of people say that it’s quite silly to start going so well in January, it’s important for us – our team – and for me so I say, ‘Why not? Let’s have a go at the nationals.’ I’ll be ready again and hopefully in the same sort of form as I was in 2013 but I don’t think I’ll do the Tour Down Under next year. I want to shut it all down after the nationals because it can be quite difficult if you go straight from the nationals to the Tour Down Under.
“I’ll probably go to Falls Creek after the nationals and build back up and hopefully hit Europe with a lot of motivation and fitness.”
What do you expect will be different next year?
“There are some big objectives and if I put them in a nutshell, the breakdown for me looks like this, if you want to segment it: I’ve got Tirreno-Adriatico, which has a team time trial and a good, long time trial, then there’s the Classics period that I want to focus on. I’m not saying I’m necessarily at a level yet to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to go and win Paris-Roubaix…’ I’m not unrealistic like that, but I’d like to put myself in a position that, with 50 or 60km to go, I’m there with the front group either helping [Mathew] Hayman out or to really try and learn as much as possible next year.
“Each year I’m learning more and I want to keep that flow going so that, eventually I can focus and say, ‘I want to be in the top 20 in Paris-Roubaix’ or something like that. It’s really hard racing but I do enjoy that sort of style. And so I just want to learn as much as I can from someone like Hayman.”
We’ve spoken with a couple of guys for the upcoming issue (RIDE #62) about their first years in the pro ranks as well as some experienced campaigners. Robbie McEwen and Cadel Evans, for example, have been adamant that the young guys need to “learn”. It’s a very generic term. What are you actually learning Luke? What do you take home from these early years?
“I think it’s a lot of things. For example, with the Classics it’s quite difficult if you’re not from Belgium or that part of the world where others have grown up with that style of racing. If you’re a young Australian who is racing in an environment that is totally foreign: you don’t normally do kermesses, you don’t race on cobbles, or small roads, or villages with so many traffic islands… Things like that.
“We’ve seen it time and time again: the strong rider with a big engine from plenty of track racing or time trials or whatever… and they go to Europe and they might be spat out the back before someone you’d think he’d be stronger than. It’s about positioning, about saving energy, and about knowing the course. They are the three key points that you are probably learning in the early years.
“Half the time, I’d be thinking, ‘I’m stronger than that guy… but why is he in the front group at the finish and I couldn’t finish…?’ Half the time, the newbies are out the back in 150th wheel kicking out of a small corner onto cobbles. That guy at the back is doing double the amount of effort than the who is up near the front. As soon as the bunch gets to an easier section, the guy on the front sits up for a couple of minutes and has a drink and a snack… meanwhile the young guy is still a long way back and still chasing to get back near the front and find a good position.
“Then, as soon as you’re near the front again, the pace goes up again and it all repeats itself.
“It’s more of a tact to try and learn the roads: ‘Okay, I’ve got to be at the front at this point… I can sit up and have a rest here… I’ve got to be aware of that climb coming up…’ all that sort of stuff.
“Also there are lessons on how to ride in the peloton: not moving up in the wind, but move up inside the peloton… that’s the sort of stuff that Robbie and Cadel would be talking about.
“You can be as strong as you like but if you spend all the day last wheel, in the wind, in a terrible position, you’re not going to get very far in the race.”
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