The sun was fading in the Mallorca sky when Simon Clarke crossed the finish line with the best of them, harnessing what little energy he had left for the final effort. The result was “only” fifth place – but for our new Australian, it meant the world.
His jubilant face expressed a mix of relief and gratitude, more than everything else.
“Look,” he said later, recalling his low moments from just a few weeks ago when his team folded and left him as a rider without a contract.
“Three weeks ago, I didn’t even have a team. I was at home in Australia with my head down, training hard, praying that I would get an opportunity. I just wanted to be ready if I did get the chance to prove to whoever decided to take me on that I could deliver straight away and that I was ready to go.”
That call came from Israel – Premier Tech and today, in our season opener, he was determined to reward his new team for the trust they placed in him.
How new is the team for Clarke? It felt like home right away, he said. “It’s been great, I fit in straight in with the team – I’ve got six or seven ex-teammates in this team so really slotting straight in quite easily and I already feel at home. I got such a welcoming from the staff so I was able to hit the ground running, not even noticing that actually I’m in a different color jersey and riding for a different team and that I can just keep performing like I’m used to doing.”
His confidence was also bolstered by the training camp, completed just a few days ago.
“We had a really good camp with some really solid training and so I knew that this was going to profit straight-away in these first races. Having only finished the training camp last Friday, I went home and rested well and knew that the work we’d done there was going to pay straight away. I was riding the first twenty, thirty kilometers enjoying it, enjoying being back in the bunch, just appreciative of the opportunity that Israel – Premier Tech has provided me to continue with my profession. Later on, it was just about executing the race correctly and trying to read the winning move. Fortunately, I got that right and made the front split.”
That happened about 85 km into the race, on the descent from the fifth mountain top. A series of crashes had split the groups, including one which took out Alex Cataford, who went down on the slippery road (thankfully, he is fine). The pace left only about 30 riders in the hunt, including Ben Hermans and James Piccoli. But when push came to shove, only nine riders remained, chasing American Brandon McNulty to the finish. Although the chase was not successful, Clarke proved that he is up there, using his vast knowledge and experience to make the correct decisions.
“Although I contributed to the chase,” explained Clarke after the race, “I had my mind on getting ready for the sprint. Unfortunately, in the last 20-25 km I was having some cramps which affected me a little bit in the final, which was not ideal, but I just tried to block that out and do the best sprint I could.”
IPT Sports Director Oscar Guerrero, who was witnessing his new rider up close for the first time, was impressed: “He has the smarts, reading the race so well. I am sure he will prove to be a great addition for us.”
Clarke is already looking forward to his next two races, Friday and Saturday, “so that we can show what this team’s capable of and keep chasing some podiums and race wins.”
Clarke’s fifth-place finish was not the only result for IPT today. Canadian climber James Piccolo secured a podium with the most points on the climbs, ending with the best climber award.
The team will try to keep the momentum going tomorrow in a race that favors the sprinters. Our man for the job: Giacomo Nizzolo.