Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) looks set to carry the lead of the Santos Festival of Cycling from start to finish, holding an advantage on the overall of two minutes as he heads into the final criterium stage of the four-day event
The power of his 80-kilometre long solo break on stage one set the scene early for overall victory at the National Road Series event but if there was any stage that his rivals may have seemed likely to be able to take back at least a little of that time on, Willunga Hill was probably it. The Australian time-trial champion, however, fended off the climbing specialists in a typically hot day of racing, with temperatures rising into the high 30’s. He conceded only a handful of seconds to the best of them finishing third behind Richie Porte (Team Garmin Australia) and Luke Plapp (Team Garmin Australia).
“The boys did a really good job and I’m really happy with that, actually. That’s probably the fastest I’ve ever been up Willunga in my life by about a couple of minutes, so it’s nice,” said Durbridge.
The 29-year-old overall leader came over the line only eight seconds back from Porte who is known as the Willunga Hill king, and young rider Plapp, who is the nearest rival on the GC.
The South Australian race is this year largely being contested by domestically-based riders, with the exception of Team BikeExchange and a sprinkling of other top-level riders returning home for the Australian summer. The WorldTour race was cancelled due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m really, really happy, Richie’s obviously the best up there and I wasn’t too far off, so I’m really happy with that performance,” said Durbridge. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a club crit, an NRS, the Santos Festival of Cycling, WorldTour, it doesn’t matter, the quality and the depth is so high now all the way through Australian cycling.”
Durbridge not only finished just seconds behind Porte, who came third in the Tour de France in 2020, but also five seconds ahead of Jumbo Visma climber Chris Harper, racing for Cervelo-Tonsley Village at the event. Harper’s performance moved him up to third on the overall and he is now sitting 2:42 behind Durbridge.
The 29-year-old’s display of time-trial power with the long stage 1 solo and podium worthy performance on the Willunga climb couldn’t be much better timed as not only is it likely to net him the win at the Santos Festival of Cycling but it can’t hurt his Olympic aims either. Durbridge is seeking a spot in the Australian team for Tokyo, to ride in a support role for the climb heavy road race and to contest the time trial.
However, for now the focus remains on safely making it through the final stage of this event and trying to pick up another win for the team at the stage 4 criterium in Adelaide, which is just over an hour of racing around the 1.1 kilometre Victoria Park circuit.
“We’ll go in tomorrow and give it a crack for Kaden Groves. I’m just so excited. They’ve just done a great job putting on such a great race in such difficult times,” said Durbridge.