Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing) secured overall victory with his narrow win over Team Type 1 – Sanofi's Julien El Fares on the second and final stage. Remarkably, Clarke was 13 seconds behind Tiernan-Locke, a consistent result given the Victorian also finished in 5th on the opening stage, 11 seconds off the pace. Clarke finished 5th on general classification, 18 seconds behind Tiernan-Locke.
Clarke told GreenEdgeCycling.com: "Hence my riding at 150 cadence for the last 10 k[ilometres]. I only had the 19 cog to ride up the 26 per cent hill at the finish. Unfortunately that ruined my race."
Teammate Simon Gerrans had been active earlier in the day, part of a 16-man break which highlighted the 205.4km stage. The escape was neutralised inside the final 30kms however, Gerrans along with Benoît Vaugrenard (FDJ-BigMat) and Guillaume Levarlet (Saur – Sojasun) persisted for another 10kms before being brought to order.
"We rode really well today," Clarke said of the team effort. "With Simon Gerrans, we have a clear and strong captain on the road. The group that's here will ride the hillier classics together. We all have a fairly similar program, and it's important that we get to know each other and learn to work well as a group for all the races we have together in the next few weeks. I can definitely take away some positives from the way the team rode this weekend."
GreenEdge has made no secret of its ambitions for the classics, and with Mitch Docker set to miss the spring due to injury, a rider like Clarke will no doubt take on extra responsibility with an eye to assisting Gerrans to the success in the Ardennes Classics that he long craves. Gerrans has a solid history at the races in Belgium and Holland, finishing third at Amstel Gold last year and also boasting top 10 finishes at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2009.
Former under 23 national champion Clarke showed just a hint of his capabilities in 2011, racing in Belgium for only the second time in his career in his debut at the Tour of Flanders. Clarke was able to anticipate the jockeying for position on the Oude Kwaremont and made a daring move before the peloton hit the climb. He was joined by eventual second-place-getter Sylvain Chavanel (Quickstep) and quickly found himself in the lead group on the road.
"I'm happy with my condition," noted the 25-year-old following Haut Var. "When you have good condition, you want to make the most of it. It's disappointing when something like bad luck prevents you from doing that. Hopefully it's a sign that I can have a good spring."