Simon Clarke Moves Into Race Lead at Jayco Herald Sun Tour

Fri 7 Feb 2014

Simon Clarke took the stage win and the overall lead on stage two of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour in Bendigo. Clarke spent the day in a breakaway and eventually held off the peloton to win from the remaining three-rider move. He now sits atop the general classification, with a 9” lead over his breakaway companion Cameron Wurf (Cannondale) in second, and a 1’22 lead over teammate Simon Gerrans, who took the bunch sprint for fourth and moved into seventh place overall.

Difficult conditions in central Victoria made for a tough day of racing on what was the longest stage of this year’s race, with high temperatures taking their toll on the peloton. The ORICA-GreenEDGE team went on the offensive early on in the 163 kilometre stage from Ballarat to Bendigo in an attempt to put their main competitors under pressure.

“It was a tough day- it was so hot out there and we were basically in the break all day,” said Clarke. “We really gave it to them today. It was our job to go out on the attack and try to put Garmin on the back foot, and we really did that. It was a very hard, long and hot day, but fortunately we got to the finish with not only the stage win but also the yellow jersey.”

With today’s stage profile hinting at the possibility of a breakaway, ORICA-GreenEDGE planned to force one of their strongest riders into an early move. With a high-paced and aggressive start to the race, the Australian team was required to take up the bulk of the early workload.

“The team rode a textbook race today,” said Sport Director Matt Wilson. “They had everything covered and they didn’t miss a beat all day. They put Clarkey in a great and potentially decisive position now to go on and hopefully win the Tour.”

“Our plan was to watch for vulnerable moments and attack when the opportunity arose,” continued Wilson. “The guys did a lot of work early and both Clarkey and Mitch [Docker] made the break, which was perfect for us. The break wasn’t working well together at all, so Mitch got on the front and did an incredible job to keep the gap at around 1’30 leading into the climb. Clarkey decided to attack to see if he could get a committed group of guys over the top together and hopefully stay away to the line, and that’s exactly what happened.”

It is the first Jayco Herald Sun Tour win for the Victorian, and his first victory of the 2014 season. With today’s winning margin and the time bonus for the stage win, Clarke has put himself into a comfortable position at the top of the general classification. 

“With the team we have, I think we can back ourselves going into the rest of the race with the yellow jersey,” said Clarke. “We have a super group of guys here. Mitch was going so well today and did a fantastic job, and all the other guys have great form, too. I don’t think we should have too many problems.”

After admitting to some disappointment at yesterday’s missed opportunity to take an early stage win, the ORICA-GreenEDGE team was determined to turn things around at the finish in Bendigo today.

“We were extra motivated today,” Wilson added. “The team was a bit down after the result yesterday. We know Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) is going so well and he had such a good gap. But we also knew there were plenty of good chances to come. Initially we expected it would come down to the stage on Sunday more than today, but the guys went out there and really attacked the race and made things happen for them today.”

There are now just two stages standing between Clarke and the overall victory on Sunday at Arthur’s Seat. The roads of tomorrow’s 156 kilometre stage from Mitchelton Winery through the Goulburn Valley are familiar ones to the ORICA-GreenEDGE team, who spent part of their pre-season camp training in the region. With temperatures predicted to soar even higher tomorrow, the stage start has been brought forward an hour, in an attempt to shield riders from the harshest conditions of the day.

“The rest of the race suits Clarkey very well,” said Wilson. “We know tomorrow’s stage well, there are a few lumpy parts of the course but it’s pretty much flat; the heat will be the biggest factor tomorrow and that can be damaging. Sunday’s stage up Arthur’s Seat will be the real test. But Clarkey is climbing very well at the moment, so we are confident that he will be right up there on Sunday.”