After nine years in the blue-and-white kit of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, Jonny Clarke acknowledged that the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah is the last race he will compete in with the US Pro Continental team.
The team is currently in a last-ditch attempt to find a title sponsor to continue next season, but Clarke told Cyclingnews this week that he plans to move on even if his current team continues.
"No matter what, even if the team finds a sponsor or not - I think it's been announced that UHC are not coming back next year - and for me I've had those three letters on my back for nine years now. I'm not doing Colorado, and so this is my last race," he said.
Clarke made his initial announcement on Instagram, writing a thank you to his team.
"I have a baby due in a couple of weeks, so there are some milestones all happening around one spot, so it's a bit of a thank you," he told Cyclingnews. "It's not just the stuff I've accomplished on the bike, but also in my personal life: married, child, bought a house. Those are the things I look at that I've done with their employment."
Clarke made the most of his final race during Thursday's stage 3, infiltrating the 10-rider breakaway and flying the UHC colours one more time for the TV cameras. Clarke took the final intermediate sprint of the day in Farmington to put an exclamation point on his effort. At the end of the race je joined Rally Cycling's Rob Britton in a split form the original break, taking 45 seconds over the field onto the five 5km finishing circuits. The field caught Britton and Clarke with two to go, but Clarke's teammate Travis McCabe took the sprint win.
"Pretty much all the day I was out there so out team didn't have to ride," Clarke said of his day in the break. "It's plain to see Travis is the fastest here this week, so the pressure is going to be on us, but if I'm in the breakaway it's only one of our legs as opposed to five of our legs. We might have to ride more tomorrow, but it was really just so that our boys didn't have to ride. But you never know."
Clarke has earned anumber of impressive results over his nine years with UnitedHealthcare, where he started as a criterium rider and slowly developed into a GC rider and quality all-rounder. Clarke finished seventh overall at the Tor of Utah last year, and he was second at the Tour de Taiwan earlier this spring. He was sixth at the Herald Sun Tour in his home country in 2016, and h was fourth overall in the Sibiu Tour last year.
But his fondest memories have less to do with results and more to do with racing hard with a good team and good friends.
"One good memory is when I did my first WorldTour race," he said. "It was Fleche Wallone [in 2014] and I made the breakaway, so that was a pretty big win for me. And also a lot of the early stuff. In 2010 and 2011 I was part of the crit team. It was a really close-knit group of guys, including my brother.
"There were some really good wins there. We won at Nature Valley, where he had our sponsor. In 2015 I was third on the mountain stage at the Sun Tour in front of my home crowd, so that was another big moment."
Despite noting his last race with UHC, Clarke was clear to point out that he was not retiring. He says he's currently looking for a team to extend his career.
"I'm searching like crazy, and please put that in because I don't want people to think I'm retiring," he told Cyclingnews. "I'm looking. I just want to keep cycling in my life in some kind of capacity. I don't mind if it's smaller. I also don't mind if it's bigger. I'd go.
"I'm 34 now," he said. "I'm getting a bit long in the tooth, but I don't want to stop. Maybe I'd go to a Continental team that's developing or something like that. I'm searching hard. So if anyone thinks I'd be on a good fit for their team, let me know."
Clarke knows his age will be a factor in finding a team,but he's hoping there's a program that can benefit from his veteran experience.
"As you do get a bit older, the team possibilities start to narrow a lot, so I'm not really choosey," he said. "Anything from a Pro Conti team in Europe to a smaller Conti team in America. I just want to keep racing. I feel way too young to stop. I love it too much and I love the life."
If you've ever wanted to know what it feels like to be part of a top-level cycling team, and to be on the ground, inside the barriers, at the Tour de France, then RUNNING WITH WOLVES will take you there. It is available to rent for $3.99 USD or buy for $6.99 USD.