Simon Clarke made history on stage five of the Tour de France with a monumental win on the cobbled stage to claim the first Tour de France in the Australian’s career and the first for Israel – Premier Tech.
Clarke, who was a late signing to IPT in January, used his experience to nail his bike throw, winning by the narrowest of margins in the four-man battle from the breakaway after a brutal day in the saddle.
“To be honest, to start with, I didn’t think I had won,” said Clarke. “I was still a long was behind Taco with only a few meters to go and I just threw the bike as hard as I could at that finish line. I still didn’t believe it until I saw the photo finish. What a day. I never expected to win a cobblestone stage. Especially because they only happen every four years or so. I am happy with any stage and just try to make the most of these opportunities. I came here to go in breakaways and today was the first day the team said “let’s go.”
IPT’s objective was clear in the race meeting this morning: have a man in the breakaway and Clarke was singled out as a rider to go for it. After a trio of riders went clear, Clarke took his chance with an attack from the peloton to bridge across and form the day’s six-man move inside the first hour of racing.
The peloton kept the breakaway close but once they reached the first of 11 pavé sectors, the chaos of the cobbles gave the breakaway the advantage and the gap grew to more than four minutes.
Clarke looked in control all day and as the breakaway tackled the final sector with a 50-second advantage, it was clear the stage winner would come from the then-four rider group with Clarke joined by Taco van der Horn, Neilson Powless, and Edvald Boasson Hagen in the finale.
After a late attack from Powless was brought back, Clarke jumped on van der Horn’s wheel in the final 200 meters and launched his sprint at the last moment, coming around van der Horn and throwing his bike to the line to secure the win by just centimeters.
“First, I thought we were going to get caught because there was a big push from behind and the gap came down quite a lot but I had hope because we had such a strong breakaway with guys like Taco van der Horn and Edvald Boasson Hagen and Neilson Powless. So I thought if there is ever a chance, then today is the day with this group.”
The emotion hit Clarke after the finish line as the magnitude of his win, having started the year without a team, sunk in.
“What a rollercoaster this year has been. But sometimes you don’t get the best out of yourself until you are put under extra pressure. I am an optimistic person and I try and always believe that things happen for a reason. This winter was a bit challenging but I found a solution and I promised to never look back and make the most of every opportunity and that’s what I did today.”
Meanwhile behind, Jakob Fuglsang put in a strong showing all day to finish in the GC group, 1:04 behind Clarke.
“I actually planned on going in the breakaway tomorrow but the team came to me today and said it would be good to have someone in the breakaway. Firstly, in case it stayed away and also to drop back and help Jakob in the finale. I heard he finished in the front anyway and I was able to race for the win so for Israel – Premier Tech, it’s a perfect day.”