Simon Clarke made it look easy. Within the first hour of racing, Clarke put himself into the early break and led his group over the summit of the first categorized climb on the penultimate stage of the Vuelta a España.
Clarke went on to secure top points on the next two climbs, adding 25 points to his mountain classification lead. Having won the first three of five categorized climbs, Clarke ensured that it would be mathematically impossible for him to lose the polka dot jersey. Barring any incident, he will win ORICA-GreenEDGE’s first Grand Tour jersey in Madrid on Sunday.
“It might have seemed easy, but it was a really difficult task,” said Sports Director Neil Stephens. “The first 15 kilometers of racing were really tricky. The entire team crowded around the front covering moves until Simon was able to put himself in the break.”
Clarke was part of a 20-rider move that formed 18 kilometers into the race. The breakaway steadily built up their advantage ahead of the first ranked climb.
“When Simon went away, it was a relief, but he was alone,” noted Stephens. “We would have been a bit more confident if one of his teammates had been with him. Simon took control as the break approached the first mountain, and he dominated. It became a little easier for him after that. The break realized Simon was going to be a tough nut to crack, so they gave up the mountaintops to him after that.”
Clarke took uncontested top honors over the second and third mountains. With the points secured over the third mountain, Clarke had solidified his hold on the polka dot jersey. David de la Fuente (Caja Rural) showed interest in claiming points on the fourth mountain, and Clarke allowed the Spaniard to lead the break over the fourth summit.
“Simon let de la Funete take points on the fourth climb because Simon knew he couldn’t lose the classification after the third mountain,” explained Stephens. “If Simon had sprinted for the points, he would have taken away the points from de la Fuente who was focused on a lesser placing in the classification. It shows Simon’s professionalism to allow another rider his chance.”
The break disintegrated in the final hour of racing. Denis Menchov (Katusha) broke away from the remnants of the escape group to win atop the Bola del Mundo. Alberto Contador defended the leader’s jersey despite challenges from Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
“We are extremely happy with what we accomplished today,” said Stephens. “It was a lot of hard work for the entire team. The boys knew this would be a difficult stage to finish, and they were still able to belly up the energy to help Simon at the start before dragging their way to the finish. The collaboration and selflessness on display is a reflection on the generous attitude of the team.”