Stepping to the plate against an otherwise dominant Huon Salmon-Genesys squad on the queen stage to Bunya Mountains at the FKG Tour of Toowoomba surprisingly came from one of the smaller squads in the Subaru National Road Series but the result demonstrated that Matt Clark (CharterMason Drapac Development Team) is one to watch when the road tilts upwards in NRS tours later this year.
The promising climber has a busy 2013 schedule that not only includes managing his studies to become a physical education and mathematics teacher but also preparing for what will be his biggest physical challenge at the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China.
Clark was named by Cycling Australia for the seven-man National Team that will take part in the 13-stage race that begins on 7 July and has chosen to skip the upcoming Jarvis Subaru Adelaide Tour in anticipation for the start of an Australian Institute of Sport training camp later this month that forms part of a study into racing at altitude. Not only will it be Clark's first time racing an international race but he will also get his first taste of the rarified air that puts additional demands on an already high-level tour.
"I haven't done anything like this before so it's going to be a pretty hectic two weeks of racing," Clark told Cyclingnews.
"I don't think I'll get a good understanding of how difficult it is at altitude until we get over there. In that sense I'll have to wait till we land to see where I'm at and what I can aim for. It would be great to get a top-10 or top-five if I find a stage that can really suit me but we'll just have to wait and see."
"The study is purely going to test the differences between how we ride down at sea level and how we perform once we get over to China," he added.
Before Clark readies for the challenges in China he was battling the domestic scene's best climbers on the hill-top stage at Toowoomba. It was designed to be one of the most decisive stages and it delivered on expectations. Huon-Genesys were a step above the rest but Clark was there sprinting for stage honours. A near unbeatable Nathan Earle had enough to get over the early kick from Clark but the Ballarat resident stamped himself at the top of the standings, and moved into second on GC.
Losing time in the team time trial meant Clark dropped off the final podium step but his performance to Bunya signalled that he will be one to watch in the more mountainous tours like Tour of Tasmania. He is also very much aware that if he continues to show himself at the top of the standings there is always a possibility he will be given the chance to step up into the Drapac Continental team. To do that however, he'll need to continue to develop and ride consistently throughout the remaining part of the year.
"The opportunity is certainly there, they made it very clear to me when I first joined up that a ride in Drapac is never guaranteed, you still have to really prove yourself," he explained to Cyclingnews.
"It's a long way to the end of the season and there's plenty of opportunities to try and prove myself and show that I can be more consistent that what I have been in the past. It's certainly a huge motivation to try and aim for that next step towards the end of the year.
On paper the Tour of Tasmania should be ideal for a rider with Clark's characteristics and with a team that Clark insists is more than just a development squad, he believes they will be ready to go against the top contenders.
"Once we get back [from China] I'll turn the focus to the Tour of Tasmania and try and build on the fifth that I got at Toowooomba. Another team time trial will make it interesting but I think the squad that CharterMason have got for the climbs is certainly going to be able to rival some of the best."
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