Simon Clarke wrote history on Sunday when he clinched the mountain classification jersey at the Vuelta a España after three weeks of racing. In his Grand Tour debut, the 26-year-old delivered ORICA-GreenEDGE their first Grand Tour jersey, the second polka dot jersey for Australia.
“I think this was even more exciting than it might have been because it was unexpected,” said Clarke. “With a team full of strong sprinters we expected to bring home the green jersey at a Grand Tour. I don’t know that any one had even thought about the polka dot jersey. It’s come as a good surprise for me to be able to contribute this win to our successes this year.”
“I’m happy to be able to do this for the team,” Clarke added. “I’m especially happy to be able to do this for Shayne [Bannan] who has supported my development over a lot of years. This is a great way to repay him for what he has done for me and the entire team.”
Clarke won the fourth stage of the Vuelta a España from an early break and banked enough mountain points in the process to earn the polka dot jersey. Forced to relinquish the jersey following stage eight, Clarke continued to pocket points during the second week of racing and moved back into the jersey after stage 14.
“When Simon first took the jersey, I told him to keep in mind that it’s always worn by the big mountain climbers at the Tour of Spain,” said Sports Director Neil Stephens. “We thought it would be nice for him to keep it for a few days but never imagined he would have it in Madrid. After he got into a move with Cam Meyer on stage 13, Simon took more points. That’s when we started to think there was a real possibility there for him to make his mark in this way.”
“The boys had a great Vuelta,” Stephens added. “Allan Davis was up there at the finish on nearly every sprint and came really close to a stage win a few times. We also saw some great riding from Cam Meyer, and it’s surely a sign of what’s to come from him. The whole team should be proud of everything they accomplished.”
The battle for the polka dot jersey went down to the wire. Clarke held a slim two-point advantage in the classification ahead of the penultimate stage that included five categorized climbs.
“I really didn’t know if it would be possible to win until I got into the breakaway yesterday,” said Clarke. “It has been so difficult to get up the road over the last week of racing. Everyone had tried, myself included, and we hadn’t been able to do it. There was no way to keep the jersey without getting into the break. Once I got into the move, I knew I had the legs to go for it.”
The hard-earned jersey was a team effort. ORICA-GreenEDGE devoted themselves to covering attacks and launching Clarke up the road.
“The team put their full support in me to chase this jersey during the last week of racing,” noted Clarke. “Without their help I couldn’t have won it.”