Will Clarke: It's nice to have your own chances every now and again

After spending the off-season training together in Tasmania, Will Clarke and Richie Porte are back racing together for the first time since 2008, when they were both on the Praties team.

And Clarke is back with a team that began life as Leopard-Trek in 2011, which, via a stint as RadioShack, morphed into its current guise of Trek-Segafredo in 2016.

After eight years away – at Champion System, Argos Shimano, Drapac and Cannondale-Drapac, with the latter becoming EF Education First last year – Clarke is back with the set-up with whom he turned pro.

"There are some similarities to the old Leopard-Trek team," Clarke told Cyclingnews at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. "Some of the same staff are still here, including Kim Andersen, who was my sports director at Leopard-Trek, so there are plenty of familiar faces, which is nice.

"And it's good to be back with Richie," he added. "We've known each other since we were 12 years old, although we didn't go to the same school. We sort of became friends after school, through cycling back in Tasmania, so it's good to be in a team with one of your best friends, and definitely motivating to try to help him do well."

If ever a rider could be described as a workhorse, it's Clarke, whose strong-as-an-ox reputation has seen him employed regularly over the years at the front of the bunch, chasing back breaks or keeping the pace high to ward off attacks.

And yet Porte has been at pains on more than one occasion already this season to say that Clarke "deserves" to win races, with the 33-year-old's last victory having come on a stage of the Tour of Portugal in 2016, when he rode for the Drapac team.

Clarke was able to get in breakaway moves on both stage 3 and stage 4 of this year's Herald Sun Tour, dropping back from the latter to assist Porte on the climb of Arthurs Seat.

"I had a bit of a go," Clarke said. "It's nice to have your own chances every now and again. Even if you're normally more of a helper rider, you still strive to try to win a race or two, so hopefully I can do that by the end of the year."

Trek-Segafredo DS Andersen is thrilled to have Clarke back on his team, and is looking forward to seeing how the dynamic of having two good friends riding together works out this season.

"We've watched Will for a number of years," the Dane told Cyclingnews. "He was with us during Leopard-Trek's first year after I signed him, so I've always followed his progress.

"We know what he can do, and that's what he's here for. But it's certainly fun to have a rider back after eight years," Andersen said. "That shows just how small the bike world is.

"I think it's very important that he and Richie know each other so well, and that's another one of the reasons that Will's here," he continued, although he stopped short of saying that Clarke was guaranteed a Tour de France spot solely on the strength of being good mates with the team's leader.

"We'll have to see how it goes, as we still need to have the best team at the Tour for Richie," said Andersen. "But for the rest of the year, it's nice to have someone you know well on the team – especially for training in the off-season. The two of them trained together in Tasmania ahead of the Tour Down Under, which helped Richie a lot, and it helped Will, too, as he's in great shape."

Clarke knows only too well what's expected of him, and knows that he won't be heading to his first Tour de France for any other reason than he's one of the team's best eight riders for the job.

"I guess I've still got to prove myself to get a spot in that squad," said Clarke, who has Grand Tour experience from riding the 2017 Vuelta a España for Cannondale-Drapac. "We've got a very strong team at Trek, so it's not just about being good mates with Richie; I've still got to earn my stripes, so we'll have to see what happens."

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