In his first season with the Cannondale team, Australian Simon Clarke wasted little time finding his winning form, and soloed to victory in the GP Industria & Artigianato in Larciano, Italy on Sunday.
Clarke, 29, made the switch to the American team after spending the past four seasons with Orica-GreenEdge, but the victory harkened back to his first European team - ISD Neri, with which he claimed fourth place in Larciano in 2010.
Having just come from an intensive camp in Tenerife, Clarke was confident that the team could get a good result in the 199.2km race that included four trips over the San Baronto climb, the last coming just 6km from the finish, most of which was a fast descent.
"I knew if I was given the opportunity, if I saw the opportunity, I could deliver," Clarke said. "The team's just had a really good camp in Tenerife. We all worked really hard over there. I did everything I thought was right these last couple weeks, and I knew I had good condition."
The team placed Lithuanian Ramunas Navardauskas in the 20-rider breakaway early in the race, and he survived a further selection with three other riders and set about building a four-minute lead on the peloton. Astana took charge of the chase and succeeded in bringing the gap down to just seconds when Navardauskas attacked solo ahead of the final climb.
"The climb is really steep in the first half and the second half is quite flat, false flat, like two or three percent," Clarke explained. "We got to the last 100 metres of the really steep part to get to the false flat, and I saw Ramunas in the front. I looked around, and we still had five guys from the team in a very small group. I know it's better to be in front of a race than trying to play catch-up, and that's when I decided to jump across to Ramunas."
Even though he had spent the better part of 200km in the breakaway, Navardauskas buried himself for his teammate and pulled him away from the chasing group. "We all know how strong Ramunas is," Clarke said. "If he saw me coming across, even though it was in the break all day, I knew he could give me a couple more strong turns. It's exactly what he did."
By the time he got over the top, Clarke had a 20 second gap and held on to win by 33 seconds over the chasing group, led home by Andrea Fedi (Southeast-Venezuela) and Clarke's old ISD-Neri teammate, Giovanni Visconti (now with Movistar).
"I went in knowing we had an awesome team," said Clarke. "We all knew with the team we had there, we should come away with the win if we did everything right."
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