After four years of racing as a pro, Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) could not have claimed his first victory in the category in more prestigious circumstances, romping away from Germany’s Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) to claim the stage four win of the Vuelta a España.
Clarke explained he had deliberately lost time on stage three to be able to make it into the day long breakaway without provoking a reaction in the bunch, which built up a difference of over 13 minutes at one point before shrinking fast as the peloton’s echelon battles saw the pace pick up fast behind.
"I was very focussed on this stage," the 26-year-old said afterwards, "yesterday I finished as far down as I could [in 162nd at 10:04] so that I would be discounted when it came to the battle for the overall classification.
"There was some really fast racing behind but at the bottom of the climb we still had four minutes margin and I thought we could just about hold on from here."
"When Tony Martin attacked, [at the foot of the climb] and the two of us went away I thought that was great, because we’d have a better chance of staying away and keeping the peloton off. And we just managed to do that.
"It came down to the last kilometre, I really tried hard in the last sprint, but I made sure it was the right moment, I waited and waited until the last possible opportunity and then gave it everything. I’m so happy it worked out."
Riding in his first major Tour, Clarke says he didn't want to follow the traditional recommendation of taking it easy in his three-week debut and then missing out on a chance like Tuesday’s.
"I wanted to go for a stage win, regardless, and I managed to do that. Hopefully it’s the start of bigger things to come."
Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) was more than usually reserved after taking the Vuelta lead in somewhat strained circumstances given Valverde’s fall.
"I don’t want to criticise any team, each one does what they want, but we [Katusha] decided to stop working [in the echelon] after I heard about Alejandro’s fall from [Movistar rider] Beñat Intxausti,” Rodriguez said, after stating that he did not think the crash was intentionally caused or that Sky had seen the crash.
"The crash was to the left and we were going down the right hand side of the road. I heard a loud noise and I thought everybody woudl stop, but they didn’t wait, they made the echelon.
"We decided to collaborate, but when we heard the news about Alejandro and that he was chasing behind, we stopped. I’m not criticising other teams, but that’s what I decided."
As for the final climb, he said "it was tougher at first, and when Froome and Contadro attacked I had a harder time following. Then, though, as it got easier, I could work my way back to them," and, finally, into the red jersey of the Vuelta leader.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.