Despite having only started one race prior to the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, Will Clarke stormed to consecutive victories on the 2.1km course along Melbourne Southbank, improving on his 2:35 winning time of 2015. Drapac’s Clarke was the sixth and final rider to occupy the hot seat as the 30-year-old then waited almost 45 minutes before Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) crossed the line in second place, less than a second slower.
While Drapac missed out at the Australian national championships, Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the Pro Continental team opened its 2016 account at the Tour de San Luis via Peter Koning, Clarke said that a win and the leader’s jersey in the team’s home city was a special occasion.
“We haven’t won in in Australia yet this year. We had a win in San Luis with Peter Koning, our Dutch rider, which is a nice result,” Clarke told reporters having donned the yellow jersey. "To win here at the Herald Sun Tour is our home race so it’s a big goal and means a lot to win here in Melbourne with the team being from Melbourne. It’s good."
Clarke has won five UCI catergorised races in his career, three of those prologues, and two of those at Australia’s oldest stage race. Having missed the team’s first stage races of the season, targeted training during January helped power him to victory - his first since last year’s race.
“I am just stronger than last year. I think that’s what allowed me to go a little bit quicker,” Clarke said. "I guess I’d done Tour Down Under the previous years before this and maybe in ways it can help to have a race in your legs but I guess I was able to do more specific prologue work before this also which could have helped.
“[It is] pretty much the same result as last year just beating Caleb by about a second," he added of the difference to 12 months prior. "It was a nervous wait for me actually, starting 40-45 minutes before him [Ewan] and sitting up there. I thought he’s good in the corners, he’s very fast so this course suits him as well.”
Stage two of last year’s race sent the peloton immediately up the steep slopes of Mt. Macedon which saw Will Clarke miss the move, resulting in him handing over the leader’s jersey to Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge). With last year’s experience under his belt, Clarke is looking to enjoy his time in the leader’s jersey a little more the second time round.
“It would be nice to hang onto the jersey for a day or two. We have to wait and see how the race plays out. It’s such a short prologue so the time gaps aren’t huge. It’s not like I am 10-20 seconds up on anyone,” he said. "Whoever basically wins tomorrow has a good chance of pulling on the leader’s jersey. We’ll wait and see how the race is going, maybe put some guys up the road to defend our interest that way."
With the category one Mt. St Leonard climb featuring 20.6km from the finish of stage 1’s 126.km route that starts and finishes on Healesville, Clarke is expecting the unexpected.
“It depends on how it's raced, if a team wants to race by the scuff of the neck , they could do some damage on that climb I think,” he said. "It could be a small bunch or even bust up into really small groups over there but we have to wait and see how they want to play it.
“On paper, they have a lot of guys who have ridden the Tour de France, Froomey has won the Tour de France and they know how to control a race. They could definitely take control if they wanted to,” he added when asked if he expects Team Sky to take up the race tomorrow.