Simon Clarke is primed and poised to show that he still has much more to offer as a professional rider than what some may think, now that he has moved to the Cannondale team.
The Australian is racing in the Giro d'Italia that started on Friday with the new responsibility of being road captain for the American team that will help their Colombian leader and two time Giro runner-up Rigoberto Uran try to win overall.
Clarke, who joined Cannondale this season from Orica-GreenEdge in which he was a 2012 founding member, says he will also get the freedom to go for a stage win himself should the opportunity arise around his new-found position.
Speaking to Cyclingnews before Saturday's second stage of the Giro, 190km from Arnhem to Nijmegen, Clarke said he appreciated his four years with Orica-GreenEdge, but that he is now focused on a new chapter of his career at Cannondale.
"I try not to to think too much about comparing it with GreenEdge. GreenEdge was an awesome part of my career.
"[But] it's a new year. I've moved on. I'm attempting new challenges. I have a new challenge with 'Rigo.' I will also have chances over the next three weeks to go up the road."
A winning feel still burns within
However, Clarke, 29 and a professional since 2009, concedes that he has a fire burning in his belly to prove wrong some people who felt he had reached his capacity after four years with Orica-GreenEdge. Clarke was an extremely valuable rider for the Australian team and played instrumental roles in some of the biggest successes of his teammates. His time on the team also had individual highlights, such as his stage win and King of the Mountains victory in the 2012 Vuelta a Espana, his strong contribution to Orica-GreenEdge's wins in the team time trials of the 2013 Tour de France and last year's Giro and overall victory in the 2014 Herald Sun Tour.
Clarke has also showed his value at world title level riding for Australia, especially in 2009 when played a crucial role in helping Cadel Evans win and in 2013 with his seventh place.
But after joining Cannondale, Clarke was quick to remind observers that he still a rider with winning heart and ability.
After the Australian titles and Tour Down Under in January, Clarke won his first race back in Europe in the Cannondale green - the Industria & Artigianato in Italy on March 6.
That significance of that early win was not lost on him.
"[When riding for] Orica a few people were telling me that they thought I was already the best I was going to be and that I should just be happy riding in a support role at a professional level," Clarke said. "One of the reasons I left GreenEdge was to prove those people wrong. To come out this year, I am here to prove them wrong, so to do that I need to win races."
Clarke said he also hopes to be selected for the Olympic Games team: "It's going to be a very difficult selection, but I am just trying to put as best a case I can to get selected."
The job at hand as road captain
First up though, is the job of trying to help Uran win the Giro. Clarke knows that he will have a huge role to play as Uran's team road captain, which he also admits will be a big step up from what he has experienced in his six previous grand tours.
"Normally you read the road book and see where you think you might be able to attack and try to remember a few things," Clarke said. "Now I need to read the road book to know every kilometre of the course for winds, climbs and everything. I need to be delegating riders for roles throughout the race and I need to know what is coming up the whole day.
"The sports director gives us some information, but I need to know all that information to help make decisions on the road."
Clarke says while communication with fellow teammates is also important, he can often sense how they are going.
"Generally I don't need to ask guys that," he said. "I can tell ... it's like with your husband or wife, knowing when they are angry or tired. You don't need to ask them. You can just tell.
"It's a similar thing with riders. It's like when seeing 'such and such' always rides in the front 20 guys and now he is right in the middle of the pack. He is not in the middle of the pack because he feels like it. It's because he is tired something is going one. Most of the time I can quickly pick up on how guys are going and who I can rely on for one particular day without necessarily asking. Obviously I try to communicate and ask them how they are going, but sometimes they under or over estimate how they are going when I can better read that by their body signs and how they are riding in the race."
Riding alongside Rigoberto Uran
Clarke's experience of riding with Uran goes back to Tirreno-Adriatico in March, and training with him in Tenerife. So while Clarke did not race in the Tour de Romandie alongside Uran, he said: "I know how he works … we are ready to go."
But there is one part of his Giro mission that Clarke was not ready for and only learned just before stage two on Saturday.
"The mechanics notified us that my bike is the closest [in size and set-up] to Rigo's," Clarke said, then adding, as he began to laugh:
"So I am in charge if he has any bike problems, not only to give him wheel, but to give him my whole bike.
"I am the road captain who will be sacrificing his bike if 'Rigo' needs it. In this team we run a few different types of pedals and what not, and I am the only one with the same pedals and same position. I am the designated bike sacrificer."
What matters is that Uran gets his best chance of winning. If that happens Clarke said the result would not only be "huge", but "a great honour being the road captain. I'm not getting too carried away with those dreams yet. It's a day by day goal.
"I need to break it down to 21 different days because anything can happen any day, from a 9km time trial to a 240km stage. But if you get every day right the dream will come true."
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