• Luke Durbridge in action (Con Chronis) (Con Chronis/Cycling Australia)Source: Con Chronis/Cycling Australia
The Australian national road race championships are upon us, the first main stage of competition is the time trial, with some strong favourites heading into the second most prestigious event of the week's racing.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

1 Feb 2021 - 11:58 AM 

The nationals time trial title is always hotly contested, with the added carrot of the Tokyo Olympics and the chance to show ability in front of selectors for the Games squad.

The course is the same as last year, setting off from and finishing from the Federation University hub, taking in a route that includes some significant uphill sections, as well as parts exposed to the wind.

The men will race a 37.5-kilometre course while the elite women race 28.6 kilometres, as will the Under 23 men and women.

Elite Men

It's an interesting one this year. Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) returns as defending champion (Western Australia coronavirus restrictions pending), searching for his fifth national time trial title. His main rival in recent years has been Rohan Dennis (INEOS Grenadiers) but the two-time world champion in the discipline won't be competing this year as he has opted to stay in Europe.

Durbridge is clearly flying at the moment, his ride to win the overall at the recent Santos Festival of Cycling was dominant, built on the back of an 80-kilometre solo effort off the front of the race, winning the stage by two and a half minutes. The biggest obstacle will be whether Durbridge can get to the event, with the sudden lockdown prompting Victoria to close its border to those impacted parts of Western Australia with the recent coronavirus outbreak.

If he can make the race, he'll be the man to beat. Perhaps the only question mark is his switch to the Bianchi bike away from the more familiar Scotts of yesteryear. Durbridge has been doing some time trials in Perth recently though, so he'll be dialling in his time-trial setup.

Durbridge's biggest competitor looks to be Luke Plapp (Inform TMX MAKE). The 20-year-old was the runner-up to Durbridge at the Festival of Cycling, and is an accomplished time-triallist. Plapp has said that he will compete in the elite category, but he's still entered as an Under 23, so something might still need to be ironed out to allow him to compete in the longer event.

Plapp won the Under-23 time trial last year and has clearly come on in leaps and bounds since as he's developed as part of the team pursuit squad. His performance at the Festival of Cycling already has WorldTour teams excited, with the young Victorian likely to increase his value with a victory at Nationals. 

In terms of his time trial setup, Plapp is reportedly ahead of Durbridge, with a bike that contains a lot of the luxury, time-saving components that can shave tens of seconds off the final result. 

There are a number of other contenders, Chris Harper (Jumbo-Visma) has probably the easiest case to make out of them. The 26-year-old was a minute and 53 seconds behind Durbridge last year in his ride for third, but he's got a year of WorldTour riding under his belt now and looks to be in decent, if not top, form at the moment.

Alex Edmondson and Lucas Hamilton are the other WorldTour riders taking to the startline and will be eyeing the final podium spot. Hamilton, in particular, has said recently that he made significant gains in his time-trialling during 2020, but didn't get much of a chance to show his new abilities against the clock.

There's been some positive murmurs out of Western Australia about Matt Burton (Unicorn Racing), with the triathlete turning heads in recent time trials finishing behind Durbridge. The 32-year-old professional ironman should be suited to the longer effort of Buninyong, closer to the bike leg of a triathlon with less explosive efforts than a regular road race.

Kell O'Brien might not be quite coming off the celebrated showing of his endurance track squad teammate, Plapp, but he looked strong nonetheless and is accomplished against the clock. He was second behind Plapp in the Under 23 mens TT last year and was reportedly an equal leader with Plapp going into Stage 2 of the Festival of Cycling which Plapp won handily, O'Brien finishing fourth on the stage, so clearly there's some good form there to go with his ability. 

The two stalwarts of the nationals time trial are Peter Milostic and Nick Squillari. They're the gatekeepers of the event, with the 46-year-old Milostic in particular the benchmark for the domestic-based riders. If you go better than them, you're a good time-triallist and can think about targetting a National Road Series TT stage for the win in the future.

Riders who should be looking to beat that impressive yardstick are names like Jordi Villani (Giant Racing), Alastair Christie-Johnston (Bridgelane), Kane Richards (MEIYO) and Angus Lyons (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast).

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Under 23 Men

The Under 23 title is a very good springboard for riders looking to make a name for themselves, and winning the event is a very good indicator of future ability. Since 2009, every winner bar two have gone on to ride at WorldTour level. 

This preview has Plapp riding as an elite, but obviously, he's the favourite if he has to ride the Under 23 as the defending champion.

It's hard to pick a big favourite ahead of the event, a number of riders come in from different form lines in state-based races and prior performances. 

Carter Turnbull (Inform TMX MAKE) is probably the man to beat after his third-placed finish last year, to go with an impressive summer of performances on the Australian calendar. If not Turnbull, it could well be a good day for any of the other Inform riders, with Tom Benton, Conor Leahy and James Moriarty all well able to ride in the top five, and perhaps crack a top result.

Riley Fleming (Oliver's Real Food) is the current Under 23 Queensland TT champion, also going faster than the elite winner and was very good for second behind Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix) at the National Road Series Tweed Tour opening time trial. Powerful and a good climber, which should ensure he's strong throughout the course. 

Pat Eddy (Bridgelane) is coming off an impressive junior career, and has the sort of mature body type that it appears that he'll make the transition to the Under 23 ranks well. His older brother, Sam, is also on Bridgelane and can do a good time trial as well. 

Matt Dinham (Bridgelane) has a series of strong results at NSW state level, even winning a team time trial championships as a solo rider. He'll be one to watch at his first try at the Under 23 TT.

There are a few riders on foreign Continental teams that will want to show some form for their team colours. Ljubljana Gusto Santic pair Dylan Hopkins and Zac Barnhill aren't time trial specialists but could put in a good performance, with Israel Cycling Academy's Alastair MacKellar more of a realistic podium chance with a series of impressive showings against the clock under his belt.

In a wide-open field, little would surprise, with names like local Jesse Norton, Zack Gilmore (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) and Rhys Robotham (Oliver's Real Food) all good riders who could push for podium positions if they've been spending time on specific training for the event. 

SBS will be providing coverage of the Australian National Road Cycling Championships. The time trials don't have any live broadcast, but stay tuned to the site for the results from Ballarat.

The elite men's and women's road races will be shown live on television on Sunday, February 7. The national criterium championships elite women's and men's races will be streamed live on the SBS Cycling Central website.

SBS brings you the Australian National Road Championships
SBS Cycling Central will bring you the major action from the 2021 Federation University Australia Road Cycling National Championships, with a combination of livestreaming and live television coverage of the elite road races on Sunday.