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Australian Open Road Championships - CN
Ballarat, Australia, January 9-January 12, 2008
Stage 4 - January 12: U23 men's road race, 122.4 km
Clarke takes revenge on Buninyong circuit
By Paul Verkuylen, with additional reporting by Mal Sawford
Simon Clarke (South Australia.com-AIS) took the bronze medal at the 2007 championship behind team-mate Wes Sulzberger, a result he admitted at the time he was less than satisfied with. He returned to Buninyong determined to win, and did just that: once again the South Australia.com-AIS team dictated the race, but it was Clarke who took the honours after a well-timed attack in the final three laps.
Clarke, a two-time winner of the Under 23 Criterium Championship, has been focused solely on the thought of wearing the national champion's jersey in the European peloton since his 2007-racing season finished. "You come home in October, and you've got October and November to enjoy yourself, but if you really want to win the national title you've really got to get your head down in December. The last six weeks my parents have been on holidays, I've been by myself, just training, eating and sleeping all day, everyday. I haven't been seeing anyone, just training by myself, there's no other way to prepare. I was even up early on New Year's Day before the heat got in, but that's the sacrifice you've got to make," he explained.
He had also decided that Sulzberger's winning tactics could work for him. "Last year Wes rode awesome and everything fell his way, and I was lucky enough to come third and I thought 'I've got to look at how Wes won last year and make that my opportunity,' and I did exactly the same thing – I waited. Last year, I went a little bit too early and everyone wasn't quite tired enough. This year, I waited, and everyone really started to hurt. Matt King was just in front of me on the top of that hill with three laps to go, and I said 'this is my time,' I went full gas and didn't even look back. I knew everyone would have been hurting; I caught Matt and we kept on going; it worked out perfectly."
Clarke and King combined their forces well over the final laps to ensure the win, with an exhausted King just missing out on the time trial and road race double. "I recovered fairly well so I knew I would have a good chance. This has just gone beyond my wildest dreams!"
Both riders agreed that there were no team orders at the finish; Clarke was clearly the stronger man. "He attacked me at the bottom of that last hill. I was gone. I was shattered. I was just hanging on, but I'm just so happy to get second," King said.
Clarke now heads off to the Tour Down Under, where he will ride for the Uni SA team, full of confidence. "Wes and I are really excited abut that – we're the only two non-professionals riding in the tour, so it's an awesome opportunity for us to get exposure with the ProTour teams, and if we can get any kind of result it will be a really big help trying to get a job for 2009."
How it unfolded
A nervous field of eighty-eight riders rolled out from the start at 9.30 for the 122.4-kilometre race around the tough nine-kilometre circuit in the hills surrounding Buninyong. By the top of the first climb, a three-kilometre ascent which began just 200 metres from the start, a mass pile-up had occurred. Due to the number of riders involved in the crash, the head commissaries, Greg Griffins, decided to place the race under neutral conditions while mechanics and the doctors tended to those who required assistance.
Soon after, the race was restarted and the racing resumed as normal. One of the favourites for the event after finishing third last year, Simon Clarke, was seen hanging near the back asking for assistance before swapping bikes due to a broken gear shifter. Just one lap later, he climbed back aboard his usual bike after the team mechanic was able to replace the entire lever in the space of just 15 minutes.
During the ensuing three laps, many small breaks made their way off the front as the favourites were sizing each other up, preferring to stay in the comfort of the peloton, which was merely going through the paces, ticking off the early kilometres. The largest break to get away during this time was one containing around 15 riders, which rolled off the front at the beginning of the third lap. However, as the main field picked up the pace, all 15 riders were brought back into the fold by the start of the climb on lap four.
The main field fell still for a brief moment on the fourth lap after they caught the large break. During this lapse in pace, two riders, Dean Windsor (Drapac-Porsche) and Adam Semple (SouthAustralia.com-AIS), attacked and quickly built up a 20-second advantage. A chase group of three riders, Haden Josefski (SouthAustralia.com-AIS), Pip Grinter (Drapac-Porsche) and Tim Guy (NSWIS-FRF), formed and set about reeling-in the two leaders.
By the end of the fourth lap, the two leaders had built up a 45-second advantage over the three chasers and 1'12" to the main field. Just one lap later the gap had grown to 1'05" to the chasers and 2'40" to the main field, as it began to look as though the SouthAustralian.com - AIS team were setting themselves up to have a few helpers out front for when the favourites began to play later in the race.
This is how the race stayed for the next three laps as the main field was content to let the leaders stay out front. The gap from the two leaders back to the three chasers grew to 2'05" as Shaun McCarthy bridged across from the main field to the chasers, with the main field still hovering at the three-minute mark.
With five laps to go the SouthAustralia.com-AIS team was seen moving to the front of the main field as the rounded the left hand corner after the finish and into the climb. From here, Jonnie Walker (SouthAustralia.com-AIS) and his team-mates increased the pace, quickly shedding those riders struggling to maintain the pace. A group of around 15 riders formed, including defending champion, Sulzburger (SouthAustralia.com-AIS), Clarke (SouthAustralia.com-AIS) and Mark O'Brien (Drapac-Porsche). By the end of the lap, they had caught the four riders who were still ahead and chasing the two leaders, bringing the gap to within a minute of the two leaders in the process.
As they headed up the climb for the fourth last time, Ben King (SouthAustralia.com-AIS) launched an attack that took him clear of the group and up to join Windsor in the lead as Semple lost contact with the leaders. Just one lap later, on the same climb, Winsor was unable to maintain the pace being set by King and fell back to the chasing group of eight riders that had formed the previous lap - likely due to the time spent in the lead. The very same climb, Clarke decided to launch his attack – one that no other rider was able to respond to, – and he quickly joined King in the lead.
It was now the two team-mates leading the race from a group of eight riders, which was being led by the Drapac-Porsche team.
With two laps to go, King and Clarke's lead was out to 40 seconds, but by the time they reached the top of the mountain pass, Sulzburger and Ben King (both SouthAustralia.com-AIS) had ridden away from the chasing group and were at 23 seconds back. Unfortunately for Sulzburger, a momentary lapse in concentration as he looked over his shoulder to survey the damage he caused resulted in him crashing into his team-mate's back wheel and coming down. This was all that was needed for the remaining six riders to catch King. Sulzburger was able to remount his bike battered and bruised, and eventually finished the race some minutes down.
The two leaders were working well together out front and as they approached the final lap, it looked likely that they would stay away to fight out the win amongst them. With just a slender lead of less that a minute to the still chasing group behind, the pair had no time to play around, both doing their fair share of work.
As they approached the final kilometre, it was Clarke who was feeling the fresher of the pair. He launched an attack to finish some twenty metres ahead of his shattered-looking team-mate, who was able to manage a salute for the crowd as he crossed the line.
O'Brien was the strongest of the chasers in the sprint and crossed the line for third.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Shane Goss/www.licoricegallery.com
Images by John Veage
Under 23 1 Simon Clarke (VIC) 3.20.33 (36.499 km/h) 2 Matt King (NT) 0.03 3 Mark O'brien (VIC) 0.47 4 Travis Meyer (WA) 5 Darcy Rosenlund (QLD) 6 William Ford (VIC) 7 Mitchell Docker (VIC) 8 Daniel Braunsteins (VIC) 9 Benjamin King (WA) 0.53 10 Luke Aggett (VIC) 1.07 11 Johnnie Walker (VIC) 1.25 12 Jack Anderson (QLD) 1.47 13 Nicholas Walker (VIC) 2.20 14 Stuart Grimsey (VIC) 15 Fabio Calabria (ACT) 16 Michael Fitzgerald (WA) 17 Adam Semple (WA) 18 Lachlan Stewart (VIC) 4.17 19 Wesley Sulzberger (TAS) 20 Timothy Walker (TAS) 5.51 21 Timothy Roe (SA) 22 Hayden Brooks (QLD) 5.53 23 Patrick Shaw (VIC) 5.56 24 Paul Van Der Ploeg (VIC) 8.31 25 Shaun Mccarthy (VIC) 8.33 26 Tarquin Wallace (QLD) 8.35 27 Jonathan Lovelock (VIC) 28 Joseph Lewis (NSW) 29 Brett Anderson (SA) 30 Angus Morton (NSW) 31 Hayden Josefski (QLD) 32 Zakkari Dempster (VIC) 33 Lachlan Norris (MTB) 34 Steven Robb (VIC) 35 Neil Van Der Ploeg (VIC) 36 Bradley Clark (VIC) 37 David Melville (QLD) 38 Malcolm Rudolph (QLD) 39 Peter Smith (VIC) 13.37 40 Travis Frisby (SA) 41 James Langedyk (VIC) 42 Thomas Robinson (TAS) 43 Suki Stone (QLD) 44 Aaron Moffatt (VIC) 45 Peter Thompson (QLD) 46 Timothy White (VIC) 16.37 47 Jarrod Harman (TAS) 18.52 48 Tim Guy (NSW) 21.35 DNF Dean Windsor (NSW) DNF Matthew Goss (TAS) DNF Anthony Bennett (NSW) DNF Brendan Brooks (NSW) DNF Luke Cridland (NSW) DNF Chris Jory (NSW) DNF Richard Lang (NSW) DNF Dale Scarfe (NSW) DNF Brodie Talbot (NSW) DNF Blair Windsor (NSW) DNF Clay Allison (QLD) DNF Lee Fry (QLD) DNF Craig Gibbs (QLD) DNF Joel Lewis (QLD) DNF Griffith Moore (QLD) DNF Dustin Spence (QLD) DNF Russell Gill (SA) DNF Kevin Harnett (SA) DNF Michael Johnstone (SA) DNF Jeremy Hills (TAS) DNF Matthew Mcdonagh (TAS) DNF Cal Britten (VIC) DNF Pip Grinter (VIC) DNF Sebastian Guiney (VIC) DNF James Henry (VIC) DNF James Ibrahim (VIC) DNF Luke Knox (VIC) DNF Andrew Rolland (VIC) DNF Chris Steffanoni (VIC) DNF Kane Walker (VIC) DNF Mitchell Brooks (WA) DNF Jarrad Tremayne (WA) DNF Miles Watson (NZL) DNF Sam Hartley