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Aussie Simon Clarke (ISD-Neri) tunes into the stage
Talented Victorian ready for another appearance in Adelaide
Simon Clarke is ready for an expected onslaught from the ProTour teams when he leads UniSA's campaign in the Santos Tour Down Under, which gets underway next week.
At the tender age of 23, the Victorian is a Down Under veteran, having ridden four editions thus far. His fifth time round sees him line up as the only member of Team UniSA-Australia to have previously ridden the event.
"Out of the guys that have been picked, I'm the only one who has done the Tour Down Under before, and I've done it four times," Clarke told Cyclingnews. "I've got the most experience but I'm not the oldest one in the team; although everyone has raced, and it's not like you need Tour Down Under experience to ride the event."
Clarke is undoubtedly one of Australia's under-rated riders, having been to numerous world championships and was a member of the squad that helped Cadel Evans to victory in Mendrisio, Switzerland, last September. He says that plaudits, or the lack thereof, don't bother him, preferring to maintain a simple approach: "You're always better off not saying anything and letting your legs do the talking."
And as Clarke continues his European racing odyssey, which will see him at Italian squad ISD for another season this year, this approach will again prove invaluable. He endured a largely forgettable 2009, save for his worlds experience and a shot at the Giro di Lombardia, a race that suits his abilities.
In the meantime he'll line up with young guns Michael Matthews, Rohan Dennis and Tim Roe plus 2009 road race national champion Peter McDonald, criterium specialist Jonathan Cantwell and Davis Kemp at the Tour Down Under, where they'll be looking to emulate last year's efforts and find the right break to reap the potential rewards.
"I'm waiting for one of those breaks to stick so I can get the white jersey!" said Clarke "We were so close last year with the break on that windy day down to Victor Harbor [stage three]; because we had Matty Wilson there we would have had second on GC and I would've had the white jersey and because we were the only pair from a team in the break, we would have had the teams classification.
"It was crazy how good the situation would have been if we'd stayed away... We were just driving it and it would have been a dream come true if we had stayed away that day."
A significant aspect of Clarke's aforementioned approach comes down to pragmatism; he knows his capabilities and aims to use them accordingly. "You've got to put it out there - that's the only way [riders such as] Matty and I can win races like that because we can't really line up [in a sprint] against [André] Greipel! We have to hit them where it hurts and make it stick!
"Depending on the conditions, sometimes it can be blown apart and turn into an opportunist's race," he continued. "Basically, that's what I have to hope for and wait for that perfect timing like what almost happened last year when the wind was blowing a gale and they went out from the blocks, everyone blowing their doors off in the first seven kilometres.
"That's when the alarm bells are ringing and you think, 'Right, this is going to happen now so make the most of it'. That's all I have to do and hope that I can pull it off."
While Clarke agreed that the event favours the sprinters he also explained that another aspect of this year's edition, the 'inauguration' of Team RadioShack and Team Sky on the ProTour circuit, could have some bearing on the direction the race takes.
"The thing is, with it being the first race for RadioShack and Sky, particularly the latter will be there to prove a point and get some runs on the board. They'll be wanting to make a big impression on the race, I can guarantee that," he said. "That will definitely have an effect on how the race pans out."