Clarke gets GreenEDGE back on track
Orica-GreenEDGE’s Grand Tour stage drought was ended by Simon Clarke on Tuesday, after the 26-year-old former national track champion used his strengths to thwart time trial maestro Tony Martin and take stage four of the Vuelta a Espana.
Oddly enough, this all happened in the ski resort of Valdezcaray after the second of two testing first-category climbs in northern Spain. A track specialist beating a time triallist in the race’s first major mountains stage – it was certainly a day of surprises.
But Clarke’s win was certainly no surprise to those familiar with the Melbourne-born rider.
Once it was established that the day’s main break was going to stay out until the finish of the 160km stage, and once the danger men of Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Assan Bazayev (Astana) and Jesus Rosendo (Andalucia) had been disposed of, it was almost logical that Clarke would take the spoils.
“I’ve had so many second and thirds and so I’m so happy to finally get my first win as a professional,” said Clarke, after using his track background to beat the world time trial champion in what was a decidedly one-way finishing sprint.
“It was such a long day with so much wind at the finish,” said Clarke. “I knew Tony would be strong and we worked together on the final climb to get rid of Bazayev, who was a threat. Tony is a very good time triallist but I knew I could take the sprint.”
Indeed, Martin has form at coming off second-best in such scenarios: in the 2009 Tour, the German was beaten into second place atop Mont Ventoux by the Spaniard Juan Manuel Garate.
For Clarke, however, it was a day to savour. Not only did he take the win, he also moved to the top of the points jersey classification and the king of the mountains standings.
Clarke will start Wednesday’s stage five with the luxury of being able to choose whether he fancies wearing a green jersey or one with blue polka dots. It’s one of cycling’s better sartorial choices a rider can be asked to make.
Clarke’s win in Spain came moments after another GreenEDGE rider – Lithuania’s Aidis Kroupis – won the opening stage of the Tour du Poitou-Charantes across the border in France.
It was not all smiles for GreenEDGE, however. Cameron Meyer, the team’s ostensible GC hope, had a day to forget, finishing almost 15 minutes off the pace to plummet down the overall standings.
Clarke is now the team’s best-placed rider on GC – and he lies nine minutes and 30 seconds behind the race leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
Still, GreenEDGE did not come to the Vuelta to make a splash on the GC; they came to win stages and that they have managed on only the fourth day of racing. It could well have been two days earlier, when sprinter Allan Davis was narrowly pipped by German John Degenkolb (Argos Shimano) in stage two.
Following a wretched Tour de France in which the team put all expectations at the foot of Matt Goss, it looks like GreenEDGE have more options to use in Spain. With Davis and Julian Dean on hand to contest the sprints and the likes of Meyer and Pieter Weening now free to try their luck in breaks, Clarke’s win may be just the start.
Felix Lowe is an English photographer, writer and Arsenal fan with a penchant for pro-cycling. Eurosport writer and blogger, Felix has covered the major cycling races in the pro calendar for the past decade and is now taking up the sport himself, at the ripe age of 31.