Wurf last raced the WorldTour in 2014 when finishing up his career as a pro cyclist with Cannondale, becoming their brand ambassador while he eyed up his future.
“When I stopped I didn’t want to race,” he said. “I felt that I was putting a lot of effort in to just participate. At 30 years old, I thought I’d put the productive years of my life into something constructive and make something for myself.
“That was why I stepped away, to figure out what that would be and I never ruled out coming back to cycling.”
It all started in 2017...
The former Olympic rower’s calling came in a literal sense when Team Ineos chief coach Tim Kerrison unexpectedly got in touch.
“When (he) gave me a ring in the beginning of 2017 I was pretty much done with sport," Wurf said.
“I’d found a place to work in finance in LA and I was home for Christmas with family. I was looking at getting stuck in the corporate world for some time and not having that freedom that I’d had before.”
Kerrison invited Wurf to ride alongside then three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome as a training partner for his 2017 preparation.
“I’ve always been a very good trainer,” said Wurf, “that’s how I’ve got most of the opportunities in my career. Cadel Evans introduced me to Aldo Sassi (renowned Italian coach) and Sassi was a big advocate for me based on the way I was training. I’ve always loved training, the challenge has been putting that into racing."
Richie Porte bumped into Kerrison at the Tour Down Under that year and mentioned he trained with Wurf over the preceding Christmas period. (Ed - Porte and Wurf still have form!)
"He told Tim that I was a great training partner and I guess Tim’s ears pricked up and he asked me to go train with Chris for 10 days.
“I had a great (time) with Chris and that led to camps in Europe throughout the year and developed from there. I like to talk, I can talk a lot and have stories to tell.
"That helps the time pass and they obviously don’t mind the stories as they haven’t buggered me off yet!”
Kerrison recognised his physiological talents and the high-level coach took Wurf under his wing with the goal of winning Kona, the Ironman world championship.
Wurf’s training for the brutal discipline of ultra-length triathlon led him to Team Ineos training camps, including Kerrison’s select retreats with just key riders like Froome and 'G'.
A maverick approach
Despite seemingly training to cross purposes in different disciplines, Wurf revealed how the maverick approach reaps unexpected benefits.
“I’m obviously putting more time into swimming and running without backing off the bike at all,” said Wurf. “I’ll get up early in the morning to do a swim and ‘G’ will get up earlier to do more on the bike, then pick me up for a ride, then he’ll do extra afterwards because he knows I’m running.
“Inadvertently, I think Tim Kerrison is a bit of a genius. Adding me into the mix has helped him push his guys in a way he wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.”
“The first time I got called up to ride with Chris, Tim thought it would be a great idea to ride to this particular national park, get off our bikes and do a trail run. Tim, Chris and I all did a 21 kilometre trail run through the bush.
“Chris could barely walk for a few days, but a couple of days later, I took him wakeboarding with a few V8 Supercar drivers, Will Davidson and Jamie Whincup.
“They certainly don’t mother these guys and wrap them up in cotton wool."
"Tim’s not the guy who follows the script of a textbook or doing what you’d expect. I go into these camps not writing anything down or even remembering things, it’s so calculated clearly within his own mind that you’re just trying to get through it.”
A seamless progression
From the weird and wonderful world of Kerrison’s specialised training excursions, Wurf also slotted in with the larger-scale Team Ineos camps and has been outfitted by their sponsors for the past few years. A move into the team proper should be seamless.
“At times in the past I’ve said that I don’t want to be in the way here, hanging around the team like a bad smell, but Carsten Jeppesen (Ineos head of technical operations) told me that Tim really needs a project.
"He’s also worked with (Kenyan distance runner Eliud Kipchoge), and Tim was kind of the mastermind behind that ‘Breaking2’ thing (Kipchoge’s successful attempt at running a marathon under two hours).
“There’s a perception of the team from the outside and obviously people have their opinions. It’s a team built on relationships, just being good people, turning up to work every day and doing your job. It’s quite a unique culture and in some ways quite old-school.
“For example, I’ve never seen a lactate machine in three years, not once. Whereas my previous time in the sport you’d see one every month!”
Returning after a five-year absence from the professional peloton is unheard of, but Wurf’s re-entry should also go smoothly.
“It’s a surprise for the sport as it’s something that wouldn’t have happened before,” said Wurf. “Certainly not to come back at this level with the best team in the world.
“I pinch myself every day to be honest. It’s not a position in life that I expected to be at 36."
"With (Vasil) Kiryienka deciding to retire abruptly, the team were relying on him for the season and now need someone to fill that role. Not that anyone will fill the role of Kiryienka, but at least I’m a natural fit, given my involvement in the team.
"It’s been an incredible few years. I could not dream of a better place to be with everything I’m doing. There’s nothing in life I want that’s better than I have. Obviously, I would love to win Kona, but that’s something that I’m working toward.
“Everyone’s said it’s different now. But in my time away from the sport, I’ve spent it with Chris, Geraint, Pavel Sivakov, Simon Clarke, Jack Haig, Richie Porte… they’re all quite good riders. Top 10 or 20 in the world.
"I feel pretty confident on a physical side. It’s not really a comeback in that sense.”
The Kona world championship remains Wurf's focus for 2020 and the Australian is gratified by the support he has received from the triathlon community. Years earlier, he was regarded as a bit of a blow-in, but no longer.
“It’s taken a bit of time to shake that off," he said. "But I think this last year in Kona was when they finally realised that this guy’s not here for his bike ego… he’s trying to be one of the best athletes in the sport.
“I didn’t kill myself to get to the front of the race, I wasn’t on a good day and had to dig pretty deep to salvage fifth place in the end with a solid bike and decent run.
"That’s meant that the triathlon world is now really supportive of me, I’ve had a lot of messages in support and seen some great articles written with some smart questions that the journalists in the triathlon community have asked.”
Wurf is very much a triathlete these days and a bit of triathlete versus cyclist pride will go into his reemergence onto the WorldTour scene.
“There was a perception of triathletes - especially when I started - of the cycling world looking down on them,” said Wurf. “Since then, we’ve seen Talansky (former WorldTour star Andrew Talansky) have a crack and probably not get to where he thought he would and Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) did one at the end of last season and he was 14 minutes behind the fastest cyclist.
“I think the triathlon community is quite excited to see what I can do in the WorldTour, they’re pulling for me and hoping I do really well. It’s a goal of mine to fly the flag for the sport.”
Wurf's first day back at school
What remains for Wurf is to turn up in Team Ineos kit for his first day of work at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, and to continue the relationship with the team crucial to this part of his career.
“I’ve noticed over the past that they do believe in me and the role I do in the team,” said Wurf. “Now it’s a manner of pinning a number on for racing.
"The fact that Ineos management, David Brailsford and Tim Kerrison, from the best team in the world, have brought me in… that gives me confidence that I can accomplish what they’re asking me to do in the team.”
“The team are always looking at ways of keeping evolving to stay at the top. It’s an honour to feel that I’ve been a part of that to help them improve in a unique way.”
You almost get a sense of why Wurf was so highly regarded as a training partner, his boundless energy, frankness and joy in answering questions about his move to the team tells the story of an inspiring journey sure to buoy anyone’s spirits. For Wurf, it’s all part of an enjoyable and fulfilling part of his life.
“It’s taken me three years to end up in this situation,” said Wurf. “We’re here now and I just can’t wait to get back to work. I just took a few years to do some other stuff and now I’m back and really excited.”