“It’s my favorite race. It holds a special place in my heart,” said , in his first post-race interview in Siena. The Australian had ridden across the finish line in Piazza del Campo in eighth place, his first top ten finish at Simon ClarkeStrade Bianche. “We only race on the dirt once a year. I grew up in Melbourne on dirt roads. I rode them my whole childhood. It kind of feels like home racing here.”
Clarke was one of two EF Education First riders tasked with a leadership role across Tuscany’s dusty gravel roads. He embraced the opportunity on offer. Along with , the team’s second co-leader, Clarke made the decisive selection that formed with around 50-kilometers left to race. Alberto Bettiol
“Today was a really positive day for me on the bike,” said Bettiol. “It was an amazing feeling. I always had the situation under control. My legs were super until I had cramps, really hard cramps that came from almost nothing. I had to stop. I tried several times to start again, but it was impossible.
“I was 50-60 sectors from the end of hardest section of the race, and I was with only 12 other guys. With me, we were 13,” Bettiol said, the disappointment in his voice obvious. “The race was already selected, and I was with the best riders in the peloton, the riders that played for victory.”
While Bettiol’s cramps materialized seemingly from nowhere, they were not entirely unexpected.
“With my coach, with [sport director] Charly [Wegelius], with [sport director] Fabrizio [Guidi], we already thought about the fact that I came directly from altitude. This sometimes can happen after a long period far from the race, where you are a bit blocked, and cramps are really usual after this,” said Bettiol. “But I didn’t want to give up, to believe in the fact that I had cramps, really bad ones. I realized pretty soon that my race was over because I stayed 10-15 minutes on the side to try to finish this bad period of cramp.”
With Bettiol sidelined, Clarke was left to fly the EF Education First flag at the head of the race. As attrition further reduced the size of the group out front, Clarke looked strong and steady.
“But I hesitated when Fuglsang went. I felt good, and I hesitated a second, and that was it,” said Clarke. “Then I was on the back foot.”
The attack by Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) drew out Julian Alaphilippe (Deceunick-QuickStep) and Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). The trio would go on to claim the podium. Clarke entered Siena with the first chase group, contesting fourth place.
“I’m happy to finally finish in the top 10 in this race,” said Clarke. “The team gave me a leadership role today, and I really wanted to deliver for them.”
Bettiol eventually recovered from his cramps to finish in 78th place.
“I finished the race because I wanted to, looking forward to Sanremo,” said Bettiol. “I wanted to do five hours, five hours and half before Sanremo. I also wanted to ride in to Siena because a lot of family, friends, came to see me in Piazza del Campo.”
Learn more about Tuscany, where Strade Bianche is held, at ef.com.