British climber Yates will have the full support of Mitchelton-Scott at the 105th edition following the omission of previously advertised sprinter Caleb Ewan, left shocked by the snub.
The Mitchelton-Scott Tour squad was decided last Wednesday but the race has been on Hepburn’s radar since the end of 2017 when he was named on a long-list for it.
The 26-year-old was sympathetic to Ewan and sent him a text last week but is now focussed on a resolute bid for cycling’s biggest prize – the yellow jersey – with Yates, and rightly so realising his own dream.
“I was obviously very excited when I got the call from Whitey [sports director Matt White] last week,” Hepburn told Cycling Central from Spain. “Coming from Australia, the Tour de France is the first race you ever hear of. I think it’s right to say that when you start cycling your first goal is to one day ride the TDF but for nearly everyone, that dream never comes true. I’m feeling pretty proud and lucky that I’ll get that opportunity this year. It’s one of the biggest sporting events in the world so I’m looking forward to taking it all in.”
Mitchelton-Scott’s team selection reflects the greater emphasis it will place on the first nine and varied stages of the race where two-time Olympic team pursuit medalist Hepburn will especially come into play.
“With the make-up of our squad this year, there are a few stages before the first rest day that really suit us so of course, we’ll be looking to be on the front foot whenever we can,” Hepburn said.
“The entire team has obviously been picked around Adam and we’ll all have our different ways of supporting him. For me and some of the other bigger guys, the first half of the race will be pretty crucial. I know I can’t help Adam once the big mountains start but there is a lot to watch out for in the opening nine stages with wind and cobbles.
“The TTT on stage three will be an important day for me. The job will be similar to the past couple of Giros I’ve done, where we’ll use the bigger guys to keep the GC guy out of trouble and saving energy on the flat.”
Hepburn has competed in the Giro d’Italia four times, from 2014 to 2017, so is well rehearsed in Grand Tour racing.
“I wouldn’t say I’m overly nervous about my TDF debut. I know well what it’s like racing for three weeks. Of course, the Tour has a lot more attention from the outside and off the bike things might be a little different to what I’m used to, but it’s all very exciting at the same time,” he said.
SBS will broadcast the Tour de France live in HD from 7-29 July.
The former national time trial champion will arrive at the Grand Depart off the back of the Tour de Suisse and a final training block in Andorra, Spain.
“I haven’t been 100 per cent happy with my shape in the past couple of months but in the last week or so my confidence has grown with my feelings on the bike and I know I'll be at 100 per cent come the start of the Tour,” he said.
Hepburn has confidence in Yates, who returned to competition from a fractured pelvis at the Tour of California in May to finish second overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné, behind Geraint Thomas (Sky), last month.
“He’s been in great shape all year and since his injury in Catalunya he’s been getting stronger every race. I didn’t watch much of Dauphine but from what he did there - and especially his attack on the final stage - I think he’s capable of being right up there [at the Tour],” Hepburn said.
“It’s impossible to see what sort of shape all the GC guys are in until the real mountains start but we’re all confident we have a guy on our team who can do it. We’ve got guys for the TTT, the wind, the cobbles and we’ve got guys to support him in the mountains.
“I’ve raced with him in both Tirreno and California this year doing a similar role,” Hepburn continued. “He’s not a guy that gets stressed too much, he’s confident in what he does and he’s ambitious.”