With Cannondale leading the Tour Down Under teams classification, Michael Woods sitting fifth on general classification and Paddy Bevin in 10th overall, Simon Clarke’s first race in the green argyle has gone rather well. The 29-year-old joined Cannondale after four seasons with Orica-GreenEdge to provide leadership and experience to what is the youngest team in the WorldTour.
"Very good, we were really hoping for a podium," Clarke told Cyclingnews of Cannondale’s Tour Down Under. “Although we set pretty high expectations and I think that’s important in any team to do so, we would have liked to have been on the podium but we also need to keep remember it’s Michael Woods’ first ever WorldTour race so to achieve what he achieved is still a great result. From the first stage to now, he’s learned so much this week and losing time on stage 4 in the little split was a learning curve for him. It’s something he’s never had to do, sprint on a flat day, he learnt the hard way and now he’s learnt his lesson. I am sure that won’t ever happen to him again.
"Obviously Cannondale got me on board to be a road captain and try and unify the team so I’ve set this week to make a big effort and try and do that. I think we saw from the TV and the racing that there was a pretty united Cannondale group there and I am pretty proud to say that a lot of that was my doing and hopefully I can keep having that effect on all the races now that I do with Cannondale. I am really motivated by new challenges and it’s been great this week. OK, we didn’t win but it was nearly a win for us internally, our two best guys on GC have never ridden a WorldTour race before and that just puts it in perspective."
Clarke was one of four riders to make his debut with Cannondale at the WorldTour opener alongside Bevin, Woods and Wouter Wippert, describing the difference between 2016 and previous editions of the race.
"We didn’t have so much stress to perform here as a team but I kind of had my own expectations and I was bought to this team with the specific reason of being a leader, and I think that Cannondale had a lot of room to improve in that area and I wanted to make a good start and can unite guys, and when they are united we can achieve good results.
"A lot of that stuff I learnt from my years with GreenEdge and I suppose something in GreenEdge came naturally that to a team in another country doesn’t come naturally. I’ve been riding around this week acknowledging certain areas that may need to be spoken about more than in GreenEdge, which we just did unassumingly, that need to be a bit more clear with such a young group. Cannondale has so many guys and for me, not even 30, to be one of the oldest guys just shows how young the team is. The good thing about young guys here is that they are willing to learn and have huge potential.
"I don’t think any of them are at there potential, we’ve only seen a certain percentage of that. Even Woods, he’s going great but we didn’t see full potential this week so with management and the directors’ work off the bike and then me in the race hopefully we can get the best out of these guys."
While Woods was rather unknown on the eve of the race, his performance on the Corkscrew and third place on the queen stage up Willunga Hill have ensured the Canadian will be a rider to watch in 2016. Clarke, though, was well aware of his talent as he explained.
"We all knew he was told from a pretty early stage last year that he was to focus on this race and be prepared 100 per cent for this race. Hats off to him to go out in the American winter and make sure he prepared for this race. Last week before we started the race we did a race-pace effort up there [Corkscrew] and he creamed us all. I did quite a lot work over the summer and I think I am in quite good form and the way he rode away from me had me thinking either I am not going as good as I thought or he’s going to kill anyone," he said.
"Being his first WorldTour race, the run in to the Corkscrew is so difficult that he could have easily got that wrong and we never would have seen that. We were trying not to get too excited until we gave him the opportunity to perform and that was the key for me, to make sure that he had the opportunity to show his qualities. If I don’t make sure myself and the guys get him in the right spot, he cant do that. He was there where he was needed to be and did the job."
Clarke won't race again until March as he builds for the Ardennes and Giro d'Italia, with "Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo and a few one-day races". The Italian Grand Tour is Clarke's season objective where he aims to replicate the success of the Tour Down Under as road captain.
“My big main goal is the Giro, working with Uran and obviously whatever race I do I’ll have a similar influence and role as I’ve had at the Tour Down Under, and doing various races with different guys, we can really unite the team so that no matter where we go we can ride like we did this week a the Tour Down Under," he said. "I am not exactly sure what Woods’ programme is but I think that management will be reviewing Woody’s programme anyway after his performance this week. I don’t know, but there is a possibility he might come to the Giro or be thrown in a few more races where we need some more climbing help, considering he showed how good he is and that he can ride bunch position and is a reliable guy that when we need work done, he’s there."