Will Clarke won Tour Down Under stage two in Stirling, Australia, from a day-long escape. Part of a composite Australian team, he surprised the world’s top teams to arrive solo ahead of cycling’s stars.
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“This is unbelievable really. I was dying in the last ten kilometres. It’s amazing that a breakaway rider can stay away for so long,” Clarke said.
“This is the biggest win of my career. It’s my first win in the WorldTour.”
Michael Matthews (Rabobank), Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), respectively, finished 1-02 minutes behind Clarke.
Team Leopard-Trek refused to renew the 26-year-old Tasmanian when it merged with RadioShack at the end of last season. Clarke will race with second division Champion System this season, but formed part of team UniSA-Australia to race the Tour Down Under.
Two cyclists have won the Tour Down Under overall from the composite team: Patrick Jonker and Sky’s Michael Rogers. They won the race before it was a top-level, WorldTour race, though, which adds more substance to Clarke’s move today.
“We all saw what he did today, that was huge. They were coming hard at him for the finish, but they just didn’t get him, he just kept stepping the pace up,” said UniSA manager, Dave Sanders.
“I said several years ago that this guy’s going to be a super star. He’s sort of floundered a little bit and didn’t quite stepped to the level that he could’ve, but I never doubted that he could do that. He is a great athlete.”
Clarke rode clear with Swiss Martin Kohler (BMC Racing) in the first five kilometres of the 148-kilometre stage from Lobethal. Kohler took enough bonus seconds at the intermediate sprints to move into the overall lead and let his companion move free with 66 kilometres to race.
Clarke proved strong even when alone.
“The peloton gave me more time,” added Clarke, “and I thought, ‘You guys have to chase me hard to catch me.'”
He had just over 11 minutes with two 21.6-kilometre circuits remaining around Sterling. Ahead of the final circuit, he had 7-30 minutes.
“This was beautiful; it was a long slow process. We didn’t think it was even a stage-winning ride, but then I said, ‘Hang on. We can do this, we can win the stage, we can win the tour,'” continued Sanders. “It was emotional, it was fun.”
Clarke did not take the tour win, but he did win the stage. With his win and 10-second bonus, Clarke recovered from his 1-40 minute loss yesterday and now sits 66th overall. Kohler leads stage one winner, André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) by two seconds in the overall classification.
The race continues tomorrow with a sprinters’ stage to Victor Harbor. The stage to Willunga Hill on Saturday will likely decide the overall tour winner, a day before the race ends in Adelaide.
Tour Down Under 2012, stage two: Lobethal to Stirling, 148km
1. William Clarke (Aus) UniSA-Australia
2. Michael Matthews (Aus) Rabobank at 1-02
3. Simon Gerrans (Aus) GreenEdge
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar
5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky
6. Oscar Freire (Spa) Katusha
7. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing
8. Luke Roberts (Aus) Saxo Bank
9. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at same time
87. Andrew Fenn (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 5-23
90. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 6-42
105. Adam Blythe (GBr) BMC Racing at 13-27
124. Alex Dowsett (GBr) Sky at 16-17
Overall classification after stage two
1. Martin Kohler (Swi) BMC Racing
2. Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Belisol at 2 secs
3. Michael Matthews (Aus) Rabobank at 4 secs
4. Simon Gerrans (Aus) GreenEdge at 8 secs
5. Rohan Dennis (Aus) UniSA-Australia at 9 secs
6. Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Katusha at 10 secs
7. Xavier Florencio (Spa) Katusha at 12 secs
8. Jonathan Cantwell (Aus) Saxo Bank
9. Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan
10. Luke Roberts (Aus) Saxo Bank at same time
88. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 5-52
91. Andrew Fenn (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 7-00
118. Adam Blythe (GBr) BMC Racing at 12-37
123. Alex Dowsett (GBr) Sky at 15-27
Brit Andrew Fenn launches at attack
A slow-moving bunch
Martin Kohler and Will Clarke in the two-man escape group
Michael Matthews takes sprint for second place
Martin Kohler moves into overall lead