Simon Clarke Interview: Aussie animates Flanders, ready for Roubaix
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Simon Clarke Interview: Aussie animates Flanders, ready for Roubaix

by Ed Hood at 7:51 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders
Astana rider wary about flat cobbles in today’s race

Simon ClarkeHis name may not have figured on the Muur or Bosberg but Astana’s young Aussie Simon Clarke did a good job for his team in Sunday’s edition of the Ronde; co-starring for a long spell in Sylvain Chavanel’s epic break around which the race’s finale revolved.

Clarke is another product of the Australian Institute of Sport’s team pursuit ‘production line’: he was a member of the winning 2004 world junior championship team, along with a certain Matt Goss.

In 2005 his domestic palmares were impressive; including a GC win in the Tour of the Murray River but a third place on a stage of the Giro delle Regione showed that the European scene didn’t overawe him.

The following year saw him become Australian Madison champion with Miles Olman and win a stage in the Vuelta Ciclista a Navarra.

In 2007 there were more podiums in Italy at the Liberazione and Regione as well as one in the Australian U23 road race championship. The following season he made the U23 rr title his own and racked up wins in Italy and Japan.

The pro ranks beckoned, but unfortunately it was the doomed Italian Amica Chips team with whom he signed; despite the limitations of the squadra he placed top ten in races like the Trofeo Laigueglia and Insubria and in the GC of the Tour of Britain.

When the team collapsed, there was a lifeline in the shape of Luca Scinto’s ISD team for whom Clarke completed 2009 and rode for in 2010.

His season was solid and included an attention grabbing ride in Milan – Sanremo. For 2011 he’s moved from a Ukrainian to a Kazakh team and has a top 15 placing on the GC of Tirreno under his belt already;

Now he’s lining out in Paris-Roubaix, encouraged in ways by his ride last weekend, but also aware that the terrain is very different.

VeloNation caught up with him after his big day in the Flemish Ardennes.

VeloNation: What was the Astana game plan for Sunday, Simon?

Simon Clarke: Maxim Iglinskiy was our main man and I was assigned to look after him.

He attacked about 15/20 K before the Oude Kwaremont but was caught and I figured he'd need to recover after his effort, so I started to look for an opportunity myself.

VN: I believe the first hour was very tough?

SC: It wasn’t so hard if you were in the bunch, but if you were out in the wind trying to get in the break then it was very hard.

It took so long for the break to go that I’m not sure it was worth their while because the race was already getting in to the hills…that’s where it really starts to kick off.

VN: There were a lot of folk roadside.

SC: Incredible! I haven’t ridden a Grand Tour so I don’t know what that’s like but there were so many people on the climbs I was getting goose bumps.

They were right in your face; and not just on the famous climbs – practically every one.

VN: Talk us through your Ronde…

SC: After Iglinskiy came back I wanted to anticipate the Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg and Koppenberg; you might not win the race on those three climbs but you can lose it right there – it’s a very important phase of the race.

I saw Tom Veelers (Skil & Holland) go and I noticed that Garmin were keen to just cruise, there was a bit of a lull and I went up to Veelers – my plan was to stay away for the three hills but he was dropped on the first of the three climbs.

Then I caught some of the guys from the early break – before Chava (Sylvain Chavanel, QuickStep & France) came up to me and I thought; ‘now we’re in business!’

All told I was away for around 100 kilometres, until we were caught by Cancellara; I sat up a bit then and came in with a group, but it was a very hard ride to the finish.

I’ve ridden Milan-Sanremo and now the Ronde; there’s just no comparison; even although Milan-Sanremo is 300 kilometres it feels more like 180, you just engage cruise control for the first four hours.

But the Ronde is different, there’s stress all day – and I have the SRM files to prove it!

Simon ClarkeVN: You haven’t raced much as a pro in Belgium…

SC: I rode the U23 Ronde and finished fourth, but the E3 Harelbeke was my first race here since then – I rode Gent-Wevelgem but climbed off at the feed, I was empty after the E3.

VN: What about this ‘Eastern thing’ – first a team from the Ukraine, then Kazakhstan?

SC: There’s no connection just coincidence; I moved to ISD after Amica chips folded but the manager at Amica was a really good guy, Giuseppe Martinelli. I always said that I’d like to ride for him again. When he spoke to me about Astana I had no hesitation.

VN: How does Astana compare to ISD?

SC: Words can’t describe it; maybe the difference between Serie B and the Champions League – everything is at the highest level, but you’d expect that with any Pro Tour team.

VN: And what is the real Vino like?

SC: A really nice guy, you see that animal on the bike, so aggressive – but off the bike he’s laid back and soft spoken.

VN: You have around 10 nations represented in the team – that must get complicated. Which language do you speak?

SC: It varies according to the composition of the squad, but usually English or Italian – that’s ideal for me, I live Varese in Italy and can speak the language.

VN: Do you still go back to Australia for the winters?

SC: Oh yeah, I went home after Lombardia and then returned to Europe after the Tour Down Under.

VN: Your roots are on the track…is it something you’d ever consider going back to – maybe the six days?

SC: I’m not sure, eventually maybe but I’ve only just reached Pro Tour level on the road and I want to develop. I look at guys who were contemporaries of mine, like Matt Goss and Mitchell Docker, and want to get to their level.

I was held back a bit by what happened at Amica Chips; Matt has been at Pro Tour level for four seasons. The next step in my development is to ride a Grand Tour.

VN: And will that be the Giro?

SC: Definitely not, but the Vuelta is on my programme and I’d be happy to make my Grand Tour debut there. I got 15th on GC in Tirreno and think I have the legs to get round a Grand Tour in a good position, eventually.

VN: Are you looking forward to Sunday’s race in Paris – Roubaix?

SC: I am, but I’m not! I’m looking forward to experiencing it, but what killed me last Sunday were the flat sectors of cobbles.

I was handling the cobbled climbs but putting out very high watts to handle those flat sections – so I have no aspirations for Sunday!


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