The Australian National Team gave themselves every chance to blow the Jayco Herald Sun Tour apart on Saturday's second stage into Healesville.
Heading into the penultimate stage, Simon Clarke and Simon Gerrans rounded out the general classification's top 10, trailing race leader Aaron Donnelly (Huon-Genesys) by 2:45. The race got away from the Australian team on the previous day’s opening road stage and so if Clarke or Gerrans had any chance of making a tilt for the final podium on Sunday it had to be on stage 2.
The signs were positive for the team early on, with Nathan Haas making it into the break for the second day running, but this time he was also joined by Clarke and Jay McCarthy. If Clarke had been the only rider inside the top 10 overall, the break might have stood a chance but with Degani Bakery Cafe World Tour Academy's Adam Phelan (8th overall) also there, the interest of the chasing peloton was stoked. The remnants of the breakaway were eventually caught after around 45km.
Clarke didn't think that the presence of three riders from the Australian team in the break was necessarily a problem in itself.
"The more the better, usually," Clarke told Cyclingnews. "It was more about cooperation from the other guys, and whether there was more or less..."
Asked if the Australian National Team had been getting the cooperation of others in the race, Clarke was blunt. "Nah, we're not," he admitted. "That's the problem."
Clarke was also reasonably tolerant of the dilemma the rest of the peloton, which is mostly made up of young Australian National Road Series teams, is faced with.
"It's expected," Clarke rationalised. "We're the only pro team here so the young guys in this race look at us and go, 'they're pros we're just going to follow them.' That's understandable, you know? But you'd hope that maybe some of the other guys would be interested in having a result themselves but they've got their instructions and team tactics and we have to respect that.
"We're just doing what we can and doing it the best we can. We'll see what happens tomorrow on Arthurs Seat."
While Donnelly holds the general classification lead, the overall winner of the 60th edition of the Sun Tour is likely to be found on the climb which brings the event to a stunning conclusion on Sunday evening. Two laps of the three kilometres climb will complete the 93 kilometre stage. The Arthurs Seat climb may not be a long one, but for what it lacks in length it makes up for in steepness, with a gradient of between eight and 10 per cent - which can double on some of the bends.
According to Clarke, anyone within a minute of Donnelly is in with a shot, leaving just two other contenders - Calvin Watson (Jayco-VIS-Apollo) and Josh Atkins (Gray's Online New Zealand National Team). Clarke remains 2:45 back.
"It only takes eight minutes to ride up Arthurs so you've got to ride up twice as fast as them," Clarke said. "We might be pro but we're not that fast."