Somewhat lost amidst all the chaos at the Amstel Gold Race, as well as the wonderment at Mathieu van der Poel's performance, was something of a record. Each man on the podium was there for the first time, with Simon Clarke (EF Education First) sprinting to second behind the Dutchman.
It was a career-best performance for the Australian, who bettered his previous best of 46th from back in 2013. Clarke went on the attack along with Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) late in the race, eventually being swept up by the Van der Poel group, which caught the leaders at the death.
"When I saw Mollema go, I knew I wanted to follow," said Clarke on the EF Education First website after the race. "I assumed I was racing for fifth place. Then the group caught us from behind.
"Here I was, flat out, thinking, 'Well, I guess I'm not even going to be finishing in the top 10.' I wasn't aware everything was close together until I saw everyone in front of me with just over a kilometre to go.
"It was pretty crazy. And pretty motivating. I knew Van der Poel was the fastest guy, so I got on his wheel."
Clarke stuck to Van der Poel's wheel as the Dutch champion made it up to the leaders inside the final 300 metres. It proved a successful tactic, and showed no small amount of nous as well as strength – nobody else had managed to get in that position, after all.
Nobody else was able to get as close to Van der Poel as Clarke, either. The pair would finish a clear two bike lengths ahead of the rest on the line, despite the class of the field at the finish.
"Van der Poel is flying at the moment," Clarke said. "I'm happy to come second to him. It's my first podium in a Classic. It's definitely up there with my career-best results."
Clarke has enjoyed a strong start to the 2019 season, winning the points classification at the Tour de La Provence as well as taking top 10s at Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo. And since La Classicissima, he's been working to peak during this week, he said.
"I've had a really good start to the year. I've worked really intentionally since Milan-San Remo to maintain the condition I had through Ardennes week, which is quite a tricky test, especially because my condition was better than I would have expected in January and February.
"My coach and I worked really hard to get my training right, and my recovery right, so that I could maintain my form. My result today proves that our approach was correct. I'm really happy that we managed it all properly."
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