The world of cycling will have to get accustomed to seeing another rider by the name of Clarke the post-race communiqués. After Simon Clarke (Astana), who took part in the five-man breakaway of stage 1 in the Santos Tour Down Under, and the brothers Hilton and Jonathan, who ride for US Pro Continental outfit Unitedhealthcare, William Clarke has arrived at the highest level of cycling. The Tasmanian is making his debut with Leopard Trek in South Australia.
He joined the Luxemburg Cycling Project after riding as a trainee with Ag2r-La Mondiale in August and September. He was noticed when he stormed to victory on six occasions last season, including four impressive solo wins in Belgium in May. He was hosted in Monaco by his friend Richie Porte, who opened a few doors for him, as did Stuart O’Grady, who was very impressed by Clarke’s strength and helped him to get his first pro contract with the newly formed Leopard Trek team.
“I met my new teammates at the training camp we had in Switzerland in December,” Clarke told Cyclingnews at Mawson Lakes. “I’m pretty excited to be racing with this team and especially starting here in my country.” He rode anonymously at the Australian national championship in Ballarat as his Leopard Trek jersey hadn’t arrived in Australia yet.
“I also didn’t go that well,” he acknowledged. “I was going well at the criteriums before but they were short races. At the Tour Down Under, I’m here to help the team. Danilo Viganò is probably our main guy for this race. It all depends how Stuey (O’Grady) can go after his crash.”
The local hero who won the inaugural Tour Down Under in 1999 showed a quick return to form as he came fourteenth in the first bunch sprint finish in Angaston. O’Grady is set to be instrumental in making a top cyclist of the 25-year-old from Tasmania, who started cycling at the late age of 22 after suffering too many injuries from running.
“I come from Campbeltown, just 70km away from Richie (Porte), Gossy and the Sulzbergers,” Clarke said. “I probably have to improve my climbing. If I get a start at a Grand Tour for my first pro year, it would be the Vuelta I guess. I’m still a bit too heavy. I want to keep improving and go ahead of the race instead of just finishing in the bunch.”
Clarke also admitted that he’s not exactly competing at the Santos Tour Down Under for the “Tassie Cup,” unofficially awarded to the best Tasmanian at every pro race. “Matt Goss has no rival, I think!”