Clarke usually competes at the Australian stage race, but missed the WorldTour opener at the start of this year due to the birth of his child, commencing his campaign in February at the Tour de La Provence instead.
The change paid dividends for the 33-year-old, who recently returned to his native Australia and has been training around Melbourne, Victoria, ahead of a fifth season with EF Education First.
"I've had probably the best season of my career in terms of results, particularly in one-day races," Clarke reflected.
"I've sat down many times and tried to reflect on this year and what I've done differently, trying to find what's triggered these results and performances. It's not that easy to pinpoint. I mean, I work hard every year, and I try hard every race, but this year everything has just seemed to click. I think it's a combination [of things]."
Clarke is now one of the oldest riders on EF Education First's roster as the WorldTour peloton continues to observe a generational shift, but the two-time Vuelta a España stage winner is proving more vintage than veteran as he knocks on the door of big results.
In addition to supporting yellow-jersey contender Rigoberto Uran at the Tour de France in July – the Colombian who placed seventh overall – Clarke was also given leeway to forge his own opportunities.
He finished second overall at his first race of the season, the Tour de La Provence, behind Gorka Izagirre (Astana), and was then ninth at Milan-San Remo, second at Amstel Gold to wunderkind Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), took two top-10 stage finishes at the Tour, and captained the Australian national team at the cold and rain-soaked World Championships road race in Yorkshire, in the UK, in September.
"I think one of the biggest things that's changed is that EF Education First have been pushing me to not just be sucked into a helping role all the time, and really focus a little bit more on myself in particular races," Clarke explained.
"Their encouragement has really helped me believe that I'm good enough to be in the front at the end of these big races, and then, as a result of that, I prepared accordingly. I think that probably had a big influence," he said.
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