Having missed the cut when Leopard Trek merged with RadioShack at the end of last season, Tasmanian Will Clarke was looking for a new team. The 26-year-old landed a ride at Champion System, Asia's first Pro Continental team, but it was his win on Wednesday on stage 2 of the Santos Tour Down Under which really proved a point.
Admitting to the disappointment of having lost the right to race in cycling's top tier, Clarke was quietly pleased with the day's result which netted him not only the win but the lead in the mountains and sprint classifications as well as the prize for most aggressive rider on the stage.
"It's going to give me a confidence boost," said Clarke, who is riding for Uni-SA at the event. "I had a bit of a hard year last year but now I'm back so we'll see what happens now."
Clarke's win was remarkable for a number of reasons. Not only was it Uni-SA's first win at the Tour Down Under since Allan Davis won stage 3 into Victor Harbour in 2008, but he had also managed something that so few had done since the race joined the WorldTour – he stayed clear of the bunch.
Clarke moved away from the peloton just 1.1 kilometres into the 148 kilometre stage and stayed there, at first with BMC's Martin Kohler – who earned the lead on GC with his efforts – and then alone following the day's one classified climb.
"What he did was huge," explained team manager Dave Sanders. "It wasn't just physically and mentally, emotionally... He took it on and said, 'I can race these guys.' He took it up... big heart, big, big character; I'm really pleased he got something from it.
"They were coming hard at the finish and they didn't get him. He just stepped the pace up."
Clarke said he went into "time trial mode" with four laps of the challenging 21 kilometre circuit around Stirling to complete.
"Once they gave me around 10 or 11 minutes [on the second lap] it gave me a lot of confidence," he admitted. "I was still feeling okay, the power was still there so I just kept pushing."
For Sanders, there was a definite feeling that no one is unbeatable and for him, Clarke’s win proved that you don't need to be riding permanently on the biggest stage to net great results.
"We have won this race with Mick Rogers. We have had great moments where we have been first and second in a stage but this I think is beautiful because it was a long slow process where we didn't think it was a winning ride ... then I thought, 'Hang on, we can win this.'
"Then I'm thinking we can win the tour. It was emotional. It was fun. It just reminded me of why we do this stuff," he continued.
"This is the best of the best. And they don't give races away. Nobody gave it to him. He took it to them. They would have done their calculations and [said] ‘we can ride this guy back’ but he stepped it up."
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