Simon Clarke: ready for Le Tour
He raced his first Grand Tour in 2012, won a stage and took home the climbers’ prize jersey. Simon Clarke enjoyed success in the Vuelta a España last year and he knows it’ll be a different sort of race when he lines up for this debut in the Tour de France on 29 June 2013.
RIDE Cycling Review caught up with the Victorian who will celebrate his 27th birthday on the day of the stage to Alpe d’Huez this July and spoke to him about the Tour de France, his training, and his approach to his job. Here is a transcript of the discussion that took place a day after it was confirmed that he would be part of the Orica-GreenEdge line-up for the 100th Tour.
Q&A With Simon Clarke
– Interview by Rob Arnold (20 June 2013)
“It has been on the cards all year but you’re never in the Tour de France team until they make the final decision,” said Simon Clarke during a chat on Skype from his European base in Varese, Italy. “I could prepare as best I could for the task that was likely to be ahead of me but everyone is at the mercy of the selection. Over the last couple of weeks I had a pretty good idea that it was likely to happen but before that I was just doing my thing…
“I raced the Dauphiné earlier this month and that was my last race before the Tour. I hung pretty low and just got through it unscathed.
“I went to Tenerife for three weeks after the Classics in the Ardennes and then went straight from there to the Bayern Rundfahrt in Germany. I was already going quite well so I just tried to not push it too hard in the Dauphiné and just get through it using it as the good racing it was but without throwing away my good condition by going in breakaways or doing anything like that.”
RIDE: I remember, after the Vuelta, you told me that the Dauphiné kind of destroyed you last year. So you’ve taken a cautious approach to it this time?
Simon Clarke: “Yeah, exactly. I was a bit scared of it this year after what happened to me in 2012 but I got through without any worries this year so that was good.”
RIDE: And did it give you a decent preview of what’s going to come up in July or ‘the mini-Tour de France’ a load of bollocks? Is it too different from June to July?
Simon Clarke: “Nah, it gives you a pretty good idea, I reckon. I haven’t done the Tour de France yet but I’ve been told that the speed is quite similar to the Dauphine – as well as the way that they race, which is ridiculously fast. So it’s good to do it just for that factor.
“But to go over Alpe d’Huez and see the descent on the other side – and things like that – was also good. We’re going to have to do that in an important part of the Tour.”
RIDE: Tony Martin, who was a ‘mate’ of yours in the Vuelta, made some comments about the Alpe d’Huez descent suggesting it was treacherous. What’s your appraisal?
Simon Clarke: “Ah, I think it’s fine. I’ve been sent down much more questionable roads than that one. I don’t think there’s any problem with it.
“It’s only dangerous if the riders make it dangerous themselves by riding in an out-of-control manner.
“It’s not a hot-mix highway but it’s fine, I reckon.”
RIDE: I gather that you haven’t had a hectic schedule this year. The team seems to be pacing you quite well. Have they been looking after you specifically so that you’re in prime form for the Tour?
Simon Clarke: “The team is super motivated to get a stage win in the Tour. I had to prove that I was going well in the Ardennes in Spring to show that I have kept on with a similar condition from the Vuelta last year. After that period the big focus was on July.”
RIDE: Are you still working with [coach] Jonathan Hall? Has he tweaked your diet or done anything that’s significantly different to how you approached the season last year?
Simon Clarke: “Ah, look… we’re always trying to maintain the watts and get as skinny as possible but I kind of manage that myself. He looks more at the training side of things. Of course, we’ve upped the load. Every year, you up the load and try a few different things and it seems to be going well but we’ll have to see how it translates on the road.”
RIDE: This is your second Grand Tour. To know that you’re going to race the Vuelta is a pretty exciting thing for a young rider but to go to the Tour de France must feel like another level. You tweeted that you were excited and how it’s a long way from where you started cycling – at the Great Victorian Bike Ride – but when it was finally confirmed who was the first person you called and what did you have to say?
Simon Clarke: “I am always in contact with my family and they knew it was on the cards; it wasn’t like I wasn’t going to be riding it and suddenly it was announced that I’d made the selection. The team supported my wish to go to Tenerife and prepare there for three weeks; they’ve been behind a lot of what I’ve asked to do and I knew they wouldn’t have done that unless they were seriously considering taking me. But, at the end of the day, I still wasn’t confirmed because if I didn’t perform well in Bayern and the Dauphiné, I wasn’t going to get my spot.
“As much as it’s likely, it was still never certain. It was a slow process and once I got through the races beforehand, I got the nod to say that I would be in the team and it was all good.”
RIDE: Have you had a look at the early stages in Corsica? They’re only a few days away now. What do you expect from the opening days?
Simon Clarke: “I’ve had a look at them but I’ve never been to that island. I’ve been to Sardinia before and I’ve done a stage race there and while it’s a different island, I think the roads could be quite similar. I assume we’ll be racing along quite a lot of coastal roads which are very windy and quite complicated so I think it’ll be a typically intense start to the Tour.”
RIDE: Are you more nervous now? You’ve done the worlds when you were – more or less – a kid, you’ve done the Vuelta… won a stage and a prize jersey there. But do you find that you get anxious in the lead-up to a big race?
Simon Clarke: “I wouldn’t say ‘nervous’; it’s more like being motivated and keen to have a crack and make the most of this opportunity that I’ve got. It’s taken 15 years of riding my bike and many hundreds of thousands of kilometres to get this opportunity and now I just want to make the most of it. I don’t want to waste my time getting nervous.”
RIDE: Where do you live when you’re in Europe?
Simon Clarke: “I’m in Varese, in Italy…”
RIDE: And who is in your crew then – who do you hang out with when you’re training?
Simon Clarke: “Me.
“Usually it’s just me. Cadel lives down the road so does Michael Rogers and Cam Wurf is also here.”
RIDE: Is there an Aussie clique? Do you guys go and ride together?
Simon Clarke: “Not really. I like to do a lot of my training by myself anyway.
“The stuff that Jonno [Hall] gives me is so specific that I would find it hard to find anyone who would want to come and ride with me anyway.
“I tend to treat my training as my work and go out and do that on my own accord and then use my off-the-bike time to catch up with other Aussies and keep in touch with friends.”
RIDE: Readers of our magazine would be keen to find out more about your quirky training. Can you talk us through what one of your odd training sessions might be like?
Simon Clarke: “I do lots of efforts. When I ride out my front door, I’m going for a reason. Every day has a goal, whether it’s to work on strength or power or threshold… whatever the goal is for that day.
“Every time I leave, I make sure I’m clear on what my goals are for that day. If it’s strength, I know I’m going to a hill, doing a warm-up climb and then I’ll go to my SE [strength/endurance] climb and I’m doing the reps – the eight to 10 repetitions – that I’m meant to be doing for my SE.”
RIDE: What might that drill be? Is it: ‘Go and hold 350 watts for five minutes…’ can you explain it?
Simon Clarke: “Yeah… basically for me, my SE is four minutes at about 370-380 watts, eight to 10 times at a cadence of 50rpm.”
RIDE: That takes a bit of concentration…
Simon Clarke: “Oh, definitely! Yes. The strength efforts that we do these days are quite different to the old days. Back in the old days it was all about just putting it in the 53/12 and try to ride up a hill. Now, the strength efforts that I do – and what a lot of other pros do – is more technical.
“We do things for a shorter period of time at a higher intensity so I’m also incorporating – ah, what’s the word? It’s like a ‘Cardiological’ effort, not only strength. It’s a combination of cardio and strength.
“The idea of doing shorter ones is that you hold the higher power – a similar power to what you’d be required to do in a race – and then crank the loading up by riding in a big gear. It means that, when I go to a race and have to ride at 380 watts – but can do it at 90rpm, instead of 50 – then I can notice the benefit.”
RIDE: And, I would imagine, the intensity ramps up as you get closer to your main goals for the season. So do you notice the improvements in your body?
Simon Clarke: “Yeah, definitely. You don’t necessarily start pushing a whole lot more watts, but if you can lose weight and be lighter and still push the same watts then you’re making quite big gains anyway.
“When I start off, I’m doing 370 watts but I’m at 67kg so four minutes only gets me 1.1km up the hill. Then, when I’m doing 370 watts and I’m 63kg, I’m riding 1.5km up the hill.”
RIDE: It must be nice to see tangible improvements.
Simon Clarke: “Yeah. A lot of people are just thinking about power output but if you’re losing weight you don’t actually need to put more power out. You just need to make sure you’re not losing power.”
RIDE: And the other trick when you’re losing weight is to make muscle function better. That’s what ‘training’ is, isn’t it…?
Simon Clarke: “Ideally, if you can lose weight and increase the power then that’s a dream situation but it’s never very easily done.”
RIDE: I know you as a pragmatist when it comes to racing, so tell me what stages are you looking at for the Tour?
“I haven’t had super-dooper look at the route because it hasn’t been until a few days ago that most of the details of the course have been unveiled. There have been the basics of the locality but the finer details are now out there.
“But I think I’ll be focussing on the second and third weeks of the Tour. The first week is traditionally quite crazy and I’ll be looking to stay out of trouble, help ‘Gossie’ in the flatter stages and then the second and third stages are really good for Simon Gerrans.
“The job for myself and Cam Meyer early on will be to provide some good support for Gossie and ‘Gerro’ and then, in the latter phase we’ll have a bit more of an opportunity to chase our own endeavours.”
RIDE: The lessons of last year, when it was all about protecting Gossie, have stood you in good stead in that, now, many other – Albasini, Gerro, Impey and you – should get a little bit of a role of your own…
Simon Clarke: “Yeah. The team has done a little bit of an analysis of how the green jersey is going to be won this year. There are so many points available on hard stages that they’ve decided to go with a bit more of an ‘Opportunist/Breakaway’ line-up.
“There are a few extra spots for breakaway guys as opposed to lead-out guys. That way Gossie has still got some good support with Lancaster and O’Grady and Impey but, at the same time, there are a bunch of other guys who can jump up the road and make the most of that.”
– By Rob Arnold
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