IN the closing kilometres of the Dutch Amstel Gold Classic road cycling race, Australian cyclist Simon Clarke counted his position.
“With four in the group ahead, and one rider with me, sixth, I’m in good position,” Clarke thought.
Until, Dutch prodigy and early attacker Mathieu van der Poel closed in on the lead.
“Where did he come from,” Clarke told the story to Leongatha Cycling Club (LCC) and friends last Wednesday night.
Van der Poel with three-in-tow, Clarke’s sixth position seemed to fall out of the top 10.
“Mat has burst on to the road cycling scene in the past two years, with a cyclocross background I knew he would sprint early,” Clark said.
“I edged my way behind him, his was the wheel to follow,” he said.
For Clarke, who’s talent was encouraged from an early age by Leongatha’s Terry Watchorn, his talk at the Bair Street pub last week was one of his three much-appreciated presentations to the club.
“We’ve had Clarke talk to us a few times now, from the days that Leon and I spotted him on the great Victorian bike ride, we knew he had talent,” said Terry.
Terry said that it was racing at the Leongatha Velodrome that helped Clarke practice the skills that took him to International success.
“Clarke had the highlight of his race career winning the motor paced event here in his junior years,” Terry joked.
The story continued:
With the track knowledge that Clarke had developed over the years, he held tight to the powering wheel of van der Poel.
“He was 800 metres out and went for it, it was a super early sprint, everyone in cycling knows that’s too early to sprint,” Clarke said.
“I held on to his wheel and prepared for my sprint. But he just kept going!” Clarke exclaimed.
Van der Poel went on to win the race, with Clarke coming in second.
The Amstel Gold is one of his favourites on the European calendar, that Clarke has become very familiar with in his 15 years on the scene.
“This year has been one of my better ones,” Clark recalled.
With a ninth position at the famously challenging Milan–San Remo, second by half a second at the French Tour de la Provence, and a handful of top 10 results, Clarke is one of the most highly regarded Australians on the scene.
Clarke attributed his success to making good decisions.
“Over there you have a team around you, with a 20-million-dollar budget. You have masseurs, coaches, team buses, but when you go home, you’re on your own,” he said.
For Clarke, coming home, first meant returning to Australia.
“You have to invest in yourself, now when I come home, I have a team around me, you need the people that want the best for you if you want your career to be sustainable,” Clarke said.
Clarke now also has a home in Andorra and a child with his Italian wife, but still returns to his family in Lilydale each year.
He’s now on a one-month cycling break, returning to Europe and training in the New Year.
Clarke is amongst the leadership group in his team Education First and will look to stay with the team next year.
Pro cyclist returns Leongatha Cycling Club support