A few seconds after he took time to compose himself upon crossing the finish line, Simon Clarke looked up and raised a huge smile.

“All in all, a good day,” he later said of the Giro d’Italia’s unrelenting 12th stage between Martinsicuro and Fano, one that took a little over four hours to complete despite a challenging 193-kilometer parcours. “No regrets, I left it all out there.”

Clarke was IPT’s highest finisher on the day, taking seventh following a breathless day of racing, his best result since the Australian Road Race Championships in January.

“Unfortunately this year’s Giro doesn’t really appeal to the punchers – there wasn’t a heap of stages you could circle,” he adds. “But the mini Strade Bianche day and today were those to have a good crack on. I maybe hit out a little aggressively in the Strade day so I went for a different tactic here.” 

Unsurprisingly, nearly every team in the Giro wanted to place somebody in the breakaway today, which predictably led to a first hour in which nearly 60 kilometers were covered. However, as the riders neared the end of their foray along the Adriatic coastline and headed towards a number of punchy climbs in-land, Clarke found himself part of a four-rider breakaway that quickly gained a stable advantage over the peloton.

He says: “That ended up working out as it meant I didn’t have to use energy bridging across on the first climb.”

The 37-year-old’s chances of adding a Giro stage victory to those he has won at the Tour de France (one) and Vuelta a Espana (two) were reduced when the group swelled to nearly 40 riders. One of those who bridged across was Julian Alaphilippe (SOQ), who eventually soloed to the victory.

“Once the group went to 37 riders or whatever it was, it was going to be super tricky to negotiate on my own,” says Clarke. “I’ve been in those situations before; you have to stay at the front and follow the moves. A group that size never stays together, it always splits.

“It actually split a lot quicker than I thought today – I followed a little acceleration and before I knew it it was a nine-man TTT for the rest of the day. Alaphilippe was so strong, we were fully committed and we couldn’t eat into his time gap.”

Clarke came into the finish as part of a four-rider group contesting for sixth place, with Italian rider Matteo Trentin the only rider to pip him to the line.