In 2017 Will Clarke will make his return to the WorldTour with Cannondale-Drapac and is looking to make it third time lucky by securing a start at one of the three grand tours. Following on from previous stints in the top tier with Leopold and Argos-Shimano, 31-year-old Clarke joins Drapac teammates Brendan Canty and Tom Scully in the Drapac and Cannondale merger from 2017.
The 2016 season proved to be Clarke's best yet as he took wins at the Herald Sun Tour, Tour de Taiwan, Tour of Austria and Volta a Portugal. His five wins for 2016 were equal with Orica-BikeExchange's Caleb Ewan for the most by an Australia in the year, and also included the leader's jerseys at the Herald Sun Tour and Tour of Austria.
"I would say it would be my best season with consistency and it wasn't like I just hit the ground running in January or February, so it was nice to win from February through to July and have a good season," Clarke told Cyclingnews from his home state of Tasmania. "My win in Portugal, my last one for the season, was in some ways the most special as it was in Europe and it was quite a hard race. That was my stand out result."
With the news of the merger announced to the Drapac riders early in the season, Clarke explained that he knew he needed to win races to ensure a WorldTour contract would be forthcoming. After wins in Austria and Portugal, Clarke was "fairly confident" of the contract and explained that when the offer was made, he took the opportunity with both hands.
"I quite enjoyed the last three years racing with Drapac because it probably has been the best period as far as results go," said Clarke who joined Drapac in 2014 from Argos. "I have won most of my races in the Drapac colours and I have enjoyed the environment and that helped as well. I am coming to that age where it's 'now or never' so it wasn't a hard decision as it was probably going to be one of my last chances to race a grand tour. Hopefully, I can get on a squad for one of those next year.
With Argos-Shimano in 2013, Clarke lined out at the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège for his first taste of the monuments. However, it is the three-week grand tours that Clarke wants to experience and he is aiming big to ensure it happens.
"The Tour de France. Obviously, that is the biggest one," he said of which grand tour he would target in 2017. "Maybe next year I start out at the Giro or the Vuelta or maybe even the Tour. You never know.
"I still think I have room for improvement so if I can put some more good training together. If you want to get results, you have to be consistent and in good shape all the time to make the most of the opportunity," added Clarke who is currently applying for a Spanish visa to assist with his plan of basing himself in Girona. "If I can do that, hopefully I can get some results and maybe even win a WorldTour race."
Clarke's bid for the Tour will start early in 2017 with the Australian national championships on January 8 to be his first race in the green argyle. He is then hoping to line out at the Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race for a 'home soil' start to his Cannondale-Drapac career.
"I am hoping to do Tour Down Under but I am still waiting to hear," he said of the race where he took a memorable solo win in 2012. "It would be nice to do the Tour Down Under again. It's where I won my first pro race and it is always nice to start the season at the Tour Down Under. It's well organised and one of the most enjoyable races of the year.
"Normally I should be down for that is everything is going fine and also Cadel Evans' race as well. After that, everything is still a bit up in the air because of the new WorldTour races with the team working out a programme, hopefully in the next month or so I should know a bit past January and February.
Having won the last two prologues at the Herald Sun Tour, Clarke is hopeful of a return in 2017 and "go for three in a row". However, with the team finalising its racing programme and the race yet to announce its route, the Tour Down Under looks like Clarke's best bet for the upcoming summer season and base for making his bid to earn a place on Cannondale-Drapac's Tour de France roster.