Tour Down Under turns upside down on brilliant day for UniSA's Clarke

It was the victory the crowd demanded, the underdog, the giant-slayer holding off the favourites for a famous win in Stirling. Will Clarke (UniSA), who went away 1.1 kilometres into the 148 kilometre stage soloed to the finish in the most improbable and dramatic of ways, covered in sweat, and encrusted with salt he lumbered over the line celebrating an historic victory.

To say it was 'gutsy' would hardly do it justice. He rode a controlled and disciplined final 30 kilometres, and took advantage of the peloton's indecision which seemed unable and undetermined to bring him back.

For Clarke, who rides for the Champion System trade team,  it was undoubtably his biggest win, having never taken a victory at the WorldTour level.

"This is unbelievable really," said Clarke. "This is the biggest win of my career. It's my first win in the WorldTour. I knew my form was good - but this is unbelieveable."

"[Kohler who he was in an early breakaway with] probably thought it was not worth keeping going but the peloton gave me more time and I thought 'you guys have to chase me hard to catch me'. I was dying in the last ten kilometres.

"[Team Manager] Dave [Sanders] was telling me to go for GC but. It's amazing that a breakaway rider can stay away for so long. It's sort of my speciality to keep going."

Close to a minute later the chasing field crossed the line led home by Michael Matthews (Rabobank) and Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge). Matthews' ride was impressive though the Australian will be kicking himself after coming so close to repeating his victory from the same stage some 12 months ago.

Martin Kohler (BMC) stayed with the bunch and thanks to time bonuses he picked up on his brief escapade with Clarke, takes the ochre jersey from German Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol). He was delighted at the finish.

"It is very cool," said Kohler. "We had this little funny plan this morning, just go for it, and I am close on the GC (overall) and I tried again and the first attack was the successful one.

"It was a little bit surprising and if no-one was following - why not (attack)?" said Kohler. "It means a lot, because it is my first leader's jersey and it is one of my favourite days here in Australia, but it is early in the season, so for sure it's good to be already in good shape, but I know it's going to be hard for the next stage which is a longer stage, with an uphill finish, which is different and more tough than other years.

"Its going to be really hard for me to defend the jersey because I think the last two days I have lost a little bit of energy."

Along with the stage victory, Clarke also took the lead in both sprint and mountain classifications, with his UniSA teammate Rohan Dennis still leading the young rider's classification.

How it unfolded

Clarke's victory was set up very early in the day when he formed the first break of two riders with the Swiss rider. The two were allowed an inital 11 minute advantage with the peloton completely uninterested in the chase.

Kohler, who sat third on the general classification prior to today's stage, had the intention only to pick up the valuable bonus seconds on offer. Just four seconds off the race lead at the start he became virtual race leader after taking out both sprints over his breakaway companion Clarke.

Clarke meanwhile earned top points on the category 2 climb on Fox Creek Road, with the 10 points enough to earn him the race lead in that classification.

It was at this juncture that things got really interesting. Kohler (BMC), in what seemed a logical tactical move sat up and returned to the peloton, leaving Clarke off the front solo on an apparent kamikaze mission.

But it would be a decision the Swiss would regret. And Clarke's strength was completely misjudged by the peloton. Initially the Tasmanian seemed to think that going back to the bunch would also be a better idea, and his advantage dropped away to less than eight minutes.

Dave Sanders, the team UniSA director must have been in the Tasmanian's ear however because the gap sprang back out to more than 10 minutes and peaked at 12.

The bunch seemed to content to let Clarke fry out in front, confident that they could bring things back in time for the finish but as the kilometres ticked down no one team commited to the chase.

3 Laps to go, and then two

Clarke was a picture of fatigue as he entered the Stirling circuit, facing up to four ascents of the difficult climb before the finish and three and a half laps. The 26-year-old remained concentrated however riding the steady pace that earned him eighth in the individual time trial in the Australian national championships in Learmonth just a week ago and maintained his healthy advantage.

Things would remain unchanged for the entirety of first of the three laps. The gap never went under 10 minutes, although there were the first signs that the bunch was starting to questions whether it was going to bring back the solo Clarke.

Sky, Rabobank and GreenEdge came to the front, all holding reasonable general classifcation aspirations with their riders, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Michael Matthews (Rabobank) and Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge). The gap however was a stubbon one.

With two to go, the the panic had really set in. The advantage of Clarke was still in excess of 10 minutes, though had dropped at least a little from the efforts of the chase. The parcours however were forgiving to Clarke's big advantage. The long gradual downhill ahead of the punchy climb not providing all that much terrain for the peloton to actually bring the Australian back, who to his credit was riding fast.

Movistar and Euskatel-Euskadi joined the chase with around 25 kilometres to go, but by now Clarke was sitting pretty. He crossed for his final lap a full 9 minutes over the chase, which was suffering massive attrition on the hilly finale.

The final kilometres were a blur. The peloton was racing to catch Clarke and now the advantage was disappearing really quickly. Every two or three kilometres the gap would come down by a minute, sometimes a minute and a half.

10 kilometres to go the equation was 4:20, and with five to go Clarke, who's motor was now really stalling, was under 3 minutes ahead.

On the finish line in Stirling the crowd went crazy as Clarke finally appeared, and willed him through the final few hundred metres.

An exhausted and emotional Clarke then raised his arms in salute, a beautiful victory, on a beautiful day for Australian cycling. Matthews led the bunch sprint home, with Gerrans and Valverde closely behind.

Results

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Full Results
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1William Clarke (Aus) UNI SA - Australia3:58:35
2Michael Matthews (Aus) Rabobank0:01:02
3Simon Gerrans (Aus) GreenEDGERow 2 - Cell 2
4Alejandro Valverde (Spa) MovistarRow 3 - Cell 2
5Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky ProcyclingRow 4 - Cell 2
6Oscar Freire (Spa) KatushaRow 5 - Cell 2
7Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMCRow 6 - Cell 2
8Luke Roberts (Aus) Team Saxo BankRow 7 - Cell 2
9Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Omega Pharma-QuickStepRow 8 - Cell 2
10Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Garmin-BarracudaRow 9 - Cell 2
11Cameron Meyer (Aus) GreenEDGERow 10 - Cell 2
12Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil -DCMRow 11 - Cell 2
13Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack-NissanRow 12 - Cell 2
14Linus Gerdemann (Ger) RadioShack-NissanRow 13 - Cell 2
15Tiago Machado (Por) RadioShack-NissanRow 14 - Cell 2
16Bernard Sulzberger (Aus) UNI SA - AustraliaRow 15 - Cell 2
17Michael Rogers (Aus) Sky ProcyclingRow 16 - Cell 2
18Xavier Florencio Cabrè (Spa) KatushaRow 17 - Cell 2
19Kristijan Koren (Slo) Liquigas - CannondaleRow 18 - Cell 2
20Gorka Izagirre Inausti (Spa) Euskaltel-EuskadiRow 19 - Cell 2
21Blel Kadri (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 20 - Cell 2
22Eduard Vorganov (Rus) KatushaRow 21 - Cell 2
23Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) KatushaRow 22 - Cell 2
24Julien Vermote (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStepRow 23 - Cell 2
25Jussi Veikkanen (Fin) FDJ - BigMatRow 24 - Cell 2
26Jonathan Cantwell (Aus) Team Saxo BankRow 25 - Cell 2
27Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-BarracudaRow 26 - Cell 2
28Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMCRow 27 - Cell 2
29Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) RabobankRow 28 - Cell 2
30Rohan Dennis (Aus) UNI SA - AustraliaRow 29 - Cell 2
31Romain Lemarchand (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 30 - Cell 2
32Serge Pauwels (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStepRow 31 - Cell 2
33Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) MovistarRow 32 - Cell 2
34Romain Feillu (Fra) Vacansoleil -DCMRow 33 - Cell 2
35Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ - BigMatRow 34 - Cell 2
36André Greipel (Ger) Lotto-BelisolRow 35 - Cell 2
37Nathan Haas (Aus) Garmin-BarracudaRow 36 - Cell 2
38Javier Moreno (Spa) MovistarRow 37 - Cell 2
39Martin Kohler (Swi) BMCRow 38 - Cell 2
40Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre - ISDRow 39 - Cell 2
41Martin Elmiger (Swi) AG2R La MondialeRow 40 - Cell 2
42Luca Paolini (Ita) KatushaRow 41 - Cell 2
43Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Liquigas - CannondaleRow 42 - Cell 2
44Jérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ - BigMatRow 43 - Cell 2
45William Bonnet (Fra) FDJ - BigMatRow 44 - Cell 2
46Matthew Lloyd (Aus) Lampre - ISDRow 45 - Cell 2
47Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel-EuskadiRow 46 - Cell 2
48Jay Mccarthy (Aus) UNI SA - AustraliaRow 47 - Cell 2
49Grega Bole (Slo) Lampre - ISDRow 48 - Cell 2
50Mathew Hayman (Aus) Sky ProcyclingRow 49 - Cell 2
51Adam Hansen (Aus) Lotto-BelisolRow 50 - Cell 2
52Jack Bauer (NZl) Garmin-BarracudaRow 51 - Cell 2
53Christopher Sutton (Aus) Sky ProcyclingRow 52 - Cell 2
54Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil -DCMRow 53 - Cell 2
55José Ivan Gutierrez (Spa) MovistarRow 54 - Cell 2
56Robbie Hunter (RSA) Garmin-BarracudaRow 55 - Cell 2
57Romain Sicard (Fra) Euskaltel-EuskadiRow 56 - Cell 2
58Sérgio Paulinho (Por) Team Saxo BankRow 57 - Cell 2
59Steele Von Hoff (Aus) UNI SA - AustraliaRow 58 - Cell 2
60Wilco Kelderman (Ned) RabobankRow 59 - Cell 2
61Mirko Selvaggi (Ita) Vacansoleil -DCMRow 60 - Cell 2
62Federico Canuti (Ita) Liquigas - CannondaleRow 61 - Cell 2
63Angel Madrazo (Spa) MovistarRow 62 - Cell 2
64Vincente Reynes Mimo (Spa) Lotto-BelisolRow 63 - Cell 2
65Daniele Bennati (Ita) RadioShack-NissanRow 64 - Cell 2
66Jens Voigt (Ger) RadioShack-NissanRow 65 - Cell 2
67Daniele Ratto (Ita) Liquigas - Cannondale0:01:20
68Davide Vigano (Ita) Lampre - ISD0:01:24
69Francesco Masciarelli (Ita) Astana0:01:28
70Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre - ISDRow 69 - Cell 2
71Gatis Smukulis (Lat) Katusha0:01:35
72Maxim Belkov (Rus) KatushaRow 71 - Cell 2