Preview: Australian National TT Championship 2015

By David Hunter

At last, cycling is back! The season kicks off with the Australian National Championships. The Criterium is on Wednesday, followed by the TT on Thursday 8th, with the Road Race on Sunday 11th.

Back in 2014, it was Michael Hepburn that took a surprise win. He defeated Luke Durbridge by 11 seconds. Rohan Dennis crashed, after his bike was lifted off the ground by a mini tornado!

2015 sees a stellar field, full of TT talent. We have: Hepburn, Durbridge, Dennis, Porte, Rogers, Howson, Flakemore and Bobridge. Easily the best TT field in any national championship and as a result, we should get a very tight race.

aussieTTThe route is a classic, out and back course. The long, straight roads means that the riders will be able to see the man in front. This can act as extra motivation for some. At 40.9km, the course is around 4km shorter than last year. What it lacks in length, it makes up for in difficulty.

aussieTTprofile

Not a single kilometre of flat road! This is a very demanding route and will cause a lot of problems. Riders will have to carefully manage their efforts as the final 10km is the hardest. Go out too fast and you’ll suffer like a dog, on this course. It certainly seems a route for the TT expert.

Defending champion, Michael Hepburn, is not the favourite for the title. That honour goes to Rohan Dennis, who is attempting to break the hour record in 1 month(8th February). Most observers have made the presumption that he has to be in great condition and I would have to agree. He ended 2014 in great TT form, by helping BMC win the World Championship. Personally, he had a brilliant but frustrating season. His TT performances took a big step up but he couldn’t win. On 4 occasions he finished 2nd and also have a couple of 3rd places. The frustration will have been channelled into positive energy, to help motivate him over the winter months. In his favour is the number of climbs. Dennis is a very capable climber, remember he won on Mont Diablo in 2014. He is a worthy favourite and will be very difficult to beat.

Hepburn returns to defend his title. He followed up his win, with success in the Tour of Qatar TT, but disappointed throughout the rest of the season. Orica decided that the best build-up for him, would be to ride the recent Bay Crits, where he was very strong. He destroyed the field on day 1 and finished 2nd on day 4. It was good preparation for him, but can he return to his TT form of old? I have my doubts. He’s not the best climber in the field and I think he’ll struggle with the profile of the race.

Turbo Durbo is the next to consider. Luke Durbridge won the TT and RR in 2013. After losing out to Hepburn last year, his TT form took a bit of a hit. His best performance of the season was 4th in the 3 Days of De Panne ITT. This was a poor return for him as he was very impressive in 2013. Remember that he won the under 23 World Championship, back in 2011. During the close season, it was back to the drawing board for him. Durbridge returned to the wind tunnel to try and develop a better riding position. This will be the first competitive outing for his new position, so it’s hard to predict how it will go. What we do know is how powerful he is. Durbo is a beast! The route won’t cause him any problems, he can handle a few hills and will fly on the downhill sections. He played a major part in helping Michael Matthews win the Giro stage to Montecassino, so the boy can climb!

Michael Rogers has won the ITT World Championship on 3 occasions: 2003, 2004 and 2005. Since the last of these wins, he’s only won 2 TTs in 9 years. These wins were in the Aussie Nationals(2009) and Bayern-Rundfahrt(2012). Rogers doesn’t tend to win many TTs, these days. He is also competing in the Criterium event, which makes me think he is lacking some racing. He is the only TT contender taking the risky decision to mix it with the sprinters. I don’t see Rogers threatening the top spot, but you can never write off a rider with his pedigree.

After a brilliant 2013, Richie Porte had a 2014 to forget about. It started off so well, with a great performance in the Aussie RR and the Tour Down Under, but illness and loss of form led to him having a horrible season. Not blaming other people, Porte went away and lost a few kilos, to make him even harder to beat. Based in Tasmania, he’s been training hard and he’s capable of a big performance. It will be interesting to see if the weight loss has an impact on his power output. A win here would be a big sign about the type of year 2015 could be.

Next up is the talented youngsters Howson and Flakemore. Howson was the under 23 World Champion in 2013 and Flakemore followed him up in 2014. These two riders are full of potential but still a little behind the older riders. A place on the podium is not out of the question but I can’t see either winning the race.

The last rider to consider is Jack Bobridge. He’s another of the hour record group and he will try to set a new record on 31st January. He has been incredibly focused, over the winter, and is in great condition. His TT performances have been inconsistent throughout his career. He won the Aussie under 23 title in 2009, the same year he was under 23 World Champion. In 2011, he was 5th in the World Championships, but performances have been on the slide since. An issue in the last 2 years has been his bike. The Belkin TT bike is not a great piece of equipment. Free from that, he should be able to go fast, very fast!

As usual, in TTs, we have to consider the weather conditions. As it stands there is a good chance of rain. On the plus side, there are hardly any corners. As we are in Australia, the rain won’t be cold, so it shouldn’t really slow the riders down.

Wind is also a factor. The race passes a wind farm, that gives an indication of the type of weather the area usually gets! Luckily the wind seems to be fairly constant throughout the day. It should be a tail wind on the way out and a head wind coming home. The 2nd half of the course is going to be very difficult.

Prediction Time

Having spoken to a few people close to the scene, I’ve gathered the following information:-

1. Durbridge is “flying”. He’s posting very quick numbers in training.

2. Dennis is a bit tired from all the flying, to and from BMC training camps.

3. Bobridge is “flying”. He’s looking in great form and has been seen zipping around the hills of Adelaide.

This is a very difficult race to call. I’m going to discount Porte as he’ll have one eye on the RR and Rogers, who doesn’t win many TTs anymore.

That leaves Dennis, Durbo, Hepburn and Bobridge. It really depends on who wants it most on the day, but I think it’ll take a sensational ride to beat Rohan Dennis.

David Hunter

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