Australian Simon Clarke came second to wunderkind Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon – Circus) at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday. The pair earned surprise podium appearances in a thrilling finale to the first of the three Ardennes Classics races.
“Van der Poel is flying at the moment,” said Clarke. “I’m pretty happy to come second to him.”
Clarke finished in the top ten at both Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo earlier this season. It’s his first WorldTour podium appearance of the year.
“It’s my first podium in a Classic. It’s definitely up there with my career-best results.”
“It’s my first podium in a Classic,” said Clarke. “It’s definitely up there with my career-best results.
“I’ve had a really good start to the year,” Clarke added. “I’ve worked really intentionally since Milan-Sanremo to maintain the condition I had through Ardennes week, which is quite a tricky test, especially because my condition was better than I would have expected in January and February. My coach and I worked really hard to get my training right, my recovery right, so I could maintain my form. My results today proves that our approach was correct. I’m really happy we managed it all properly.”
Woods was the first of his teammates to go on the offensive, joining a breakaway group that slipped away from the reduced peloton with nearly 40 kilometers left in the hilly 266-kilometer race.
“Not too long after Woodsy attacked, we heard that he had been dropped from his group, and we were a little bit on the back foot,” said Clarke. “Fortunately, we still had four riders in that group of 30 or so, and we were able to use Lawson Craddock and Woodsy to help bring the race back as close as possible so that Bettiol and I could make the most of the finale.”
The team decided to save Bettiol’s card for the final kilometers and put Clarke on late race attack duty.
“When I saw Bauke Mollema go, I knew I wanted to follow,” said Clarke.
The pair immediately opened up a gap on the reduced bunch.
Clarke and Mollema initially had five riders ahead of them: Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick Step) and Jakob Fuglsang were leading the race, Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) made up chase group one, Max Schachmann (BORA – hansgrohe) chased alone in virtual fourth place.
“I assumed I was racing for fifth place,” said Clarke. “Then the group caught us from behind. Here I was, flat out, thinking: ‘Well, I guess I’m not even going to be finishing in the top ten.’ ”
Despite his initial dismay and disappointment, Clarke forged on. And suddenly, inexplicably, the race came back together at the front. Alaphilippe, Fuglsang, Trentin, Kwiatkwoski and Schachmann had all been swooped up by the chasers.
“It was pretty crazy. And pretty motivating.”
“I wasn’t aware everything was close together until I saw everyone in front of me with just over a kilometer to go,” said Clarke. “It was pretty crazy. And pretty motivating. I knew Van der Poel was the fastest guy, so I got on his wheel.”
And sprinted off it.
“That was one of the crazier finishes to a race I’ve seen,” said EF Education First Pro Cycling CEO Jonathan Vaughters. “Initially I thought we’d missed our chance at this one, but Simon did really, really well to hang in there and keep racing. Probably no one thought we had a chance to make it back to the front of the race, but it just goes to show – never give up”
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