Words by Sophie Smith | Photo by SWpix.com
Luke Durbridge has swapped rigid routine for a “glass half full” approach amid the COVID-19 pandemic and ahead of a new season he believes may be as affected as the last.
The 29-year-old is one of comparatively fewer Australian WorldTour professionals who returned from Europe to their homeland for the summer in lieu of the pandemic, strict national quarantine protocols as well as the near wholesale cancellation of races including the Tour Down Under.
Durbridge and his wife, Lara, paid for the stipulated $3360 (£1904) government mandated, two-week hotel quarantine, which all international arrivals must undergo, so they could see their families in Perth at Christmas. They even brought supplies to colleagues, including Richie Porte and former CCC press officer Phoebe Haymes, who also braved the measure to come home, once they were out.
“They don’t even let you open a window. You’re not allowed to go outside, which no one is allowed to go outside but the hotel was pretty gnarly strict,” Durbridge said. “They sort of boarded up the window, you weren’t even allowed to crack it in case I blow out the sixth floor of the Perth Hyatt and I give WA coronavirus!
“Lucky we live in Perth, so like mum and dad could drop off [supplies]. We pretty much had everything under the sun; had an ergo, had a microwave, had an air purifier, all those sort of things. It was all good.”
Durbridge can joke about it now but, having been under house arrest in his Girona, Spain base at the onset of the pandemic, he admitted it at times wasn’t easy. His observations come as tennis players who have arrived for the Australian Open in Melbourne are already objecting to hotel quarantine a few days in.
“It was amazingly expensive; it was definitely a challenging two weeks and obviously having that two-and-a-half-month lockdown period in Girona this year anyway was solid, and people just didn’t want to do that. You sort of have this PTSD about doing it again, you know,” Durbridge said.
“We didn’t have kids, so it was easier to quarantine. I can understand people who had kids, there’s no way you’re doing two weeks in a room. I’m not sure how Richie did it! But in the end, me and my wife decided we’d come back.
“Family is such an important thing to me, and Christmas is like the biggest thing for me, I love Christmas, and if I can only catch up with four people in Girona for Christmas it’s not sort of going to cut it,” he continued.
“There was sort of no expense or nothing hard to get home, do two weeks and then be out with some normality. There was always a risk in that, but I think it’s easy for me now to look back and go, ‘Yeah, I think I made the right decision’. Each to their own.”
Australia’s response to the pandemic has drastically differed across states. Victoria underwent a hard 12-15-week lockdown, akin to what many across Europe are facing now, over the southern hemisphere winter, while in Western Australia, where Durbridge has undergone pre-season training, life, he said, is close to normal.
“It’s funny, people just don’t understand. Like in Perth, everyone is like, ‘What coronavirus?’ Everyone is walking around like nothing has really happened. No idea,” he observed.
The Australian national time trial champion will commence his season at the Festival of Cycling in Adelaide from Thursday. The stage race is running in place of the Tour Down Under and will also feature Ineos Grenadiers all-rounder Richie Porte, riding for the national team, plus a host of domestic squads.
Durbridge is then set to defend his time trial crown at the delayed national titles in Victoria next month, before flying out of Melbourne back to Europe, to avoid further interstate quarantine measures and trigger-happy border closures. The classics and Tokyo Olympic Games selection are among the team BikeExchange stalwart’s key objectives this season in which he’ll also reunite with Michael Matthews, who has transferred back to the squad after four seasons at Sunweb.
“After [last] year, it’s very difficult to plan ahead. I [will] step back and maybe have a different mentality this year, taking it day to day: get up, go training, do your thing, plan for the event that’s coming up but then if it doesn’t go ahead, OK reassess, change it up, plan ahead, go again for the next event,” he said.
“That’s the mentality I’d rather [have] than hang all your eggs on the nationals going ahead and then the classics and then the Tour has to start on this date and that date. You’ve got to be realistic. Whenever it happens, just be fit and ready to go. That’s my mentality with it, being a little bit more relaxed.”
The men’s WorldTour season is set to commence with the February UAE Tour, which last year was cancelled with two stages remaining, and all involved put into temporary lockdown, following the sport’s first recorded positive COVID-19 cases there. It preceded an almost five-month competition shutdown and then revision and running of a condensed calendar played out under a constant cloud of doubt.
A UCI spokesman said the governing body and stakeholders are remaining vigilant in regard to this season’s schedule.
“Events that are confirmed on the UCI international calendar are published on the UCI website. If the event’s status changes, they will be removed from the calendar,” the spokesman said.
“The UCI is monitoring the evolution of the pandemic and will make adjustments to the protocols if required. Any adaptations deemed appropriate by the UCI in consultation with all parties involved will be communicated on due course.”