Simon Clarke: co-leader for Australia at the world championships
Simon Clarke has recently won a stage of the Vuelta a España and he will line up for the 2018 world championships as a co-leader of the Australian team.
On a course with plenty of climbing it seemed like Australia had an ideal candidate to try and win the world title in 2018. The plan has changed a lot in recent days with the original designated leader, Richie Porte, admitting he wouldn’t be in the right condition. Instead of the Tasmanian being leader of the Aussie line-up of eight, he has forfeited his place in the race.
There will still be eight riders from Australia contesting the final race of the championships: Simon Clarke, Rohan Dennis, Jack Haig, Chris Hamilton, Damien Howson, Robert Power, Nick Schultz and Rory Sutherland. And instead of an all-for-one approach, as manager Brad McGee had initially mapped out for the race in Austria, there’ll be a few options.
Simon Clarke has been a road captain in the past, he’s enjoyed the experience of being on the winning team, and he’s looking forward to sharing leadership duties with Jack Haig.
– Click the SoundCloud file to listen to the interview with Simon Clarke, and/or read the transcript below. –
Listen to the interview: click the SoundCloud file above.
RIDE: It’s the Wednesday before the world championships and I’m speaking with Simon Clarke who, I believe, is already in Innsbruck. Is that correct?
Simon Clarke: “Ah, I’m actually heading up this afternoon – so I’m not quite there yet but I will be there by the end of the day.”
So, you’re in Italy right now?
“Yeah. I was up in Andorra, at home, last week and I’ve just come to Italy for the last five days leading into the worlds as I like to come down from altitude and get behind the motorbike and breathe a bit of thick air before I head to my big races – so, that’s why I’m back in Italy at the moment.”
Alright, well you’ve brought the topic up, so tell me how your body adapts after that session up high and how are you expecting to feel by Sunday (the day of the elite men’s road race at the 2018 world championships)?
“The idea of… staying at altitude you don’t recover quite as well, and your body is under a bit more pressure. Going into a race, you really want to freshen up and do some more sharp intensity stuff and that’s much more easily done at sea-level.
“It’s much easier to freshen up at sea-level and come in feeling really good, as opposed to staying at altitude right until the start – sometimes you can come in a bit flat; it’s a bit tricky. So, that’s the way I like to do it.”
The [Australian] team [for the worlds] was announced a long time ago, I think it was about the 15th of August. So, you’ve had a good heads-up to know to be in form for this coming weekend. The Vuelta has come gone since [the announcement], you’ve had a stage win there. But then on the weekend, everything changed a little bit: Richie Porte abandoned – pulled his name off the list because of illness – and I imagine now it’s going to be you and Jack Haig as a two-pronged leader attack. Is that how Australia is going to approach the road race?
“It has been a pretty crazy couple of months for me, to be honest, because originally I wasn’t even down [to ride] the Vuelta [with EF Education First-Drapac].
“So, when Brad McGee rang me [about the worlds], I said: ‘I’m not sure about worlds. I’m not down for the Vuelta. I’ve only got a couple of one-day races between the Tour and the worlds, and for me that’s not good enough preparation to race well at the world championships…’
“I wasn’t even sure if I should go and then, if I did, I’d be just doing quite an early-on role – [that’s what] I was thinking. And then, 10 days before the Vuelta, I got the call-up.
“So, I rung McGee and said, ‘Actually, it could be on here – I’ll be doing the Vuelta, so I’ll be good to go. And whatever you need, I’ll be in form and ready to go.’
“Then the Vuelta ended up… well, unfortunately Richie got sick on the second rest day in the Vuelta so his progression of coming back up to his top form was really hindered by that sickness. And I think that was really ultimately what stopped him from being able to get back to where he needed to be to be able to perform well [at the worlds] on the weekend.
“I think he made a very professional call to say, ‘Look, I’m going to call it [off] instead of trying to just rock up and try and pretend that everything was alright…’ when maybe it wasn’t.
“Yeah, now there’s no Richie.
“Jack Haig was going really well in the Vuelta, riding a support role [for the winner, Simon Yates, a team-mate at Mitchelton-Scott] again… he’s going really well at the moment.
“And I’m feeling quite good so they have decided to back Jack and I, and we’re really looking forward to going there and giving it a good crack.”
So how do you approach it at this point? Is there a case of one of you holds back, one covers moves just in case… or do you just have to let the race really dictate the tactics, don’t you?
“Yeah, those finer details are ones we need to still sit down and talk about when we get up into Innsbruck and sit down as a group.
“But Jack and I are pretty good mates and we know how this all works, so I have no doubt that we’ll work well together in the final when things need to be cover and decisions need to be made.”
Clarke in his first world championships in the elite ranks, 2009… when he helped Cadel Evans win the rainbow jersey in Mendrisio.
Photo: Graham Watson
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s much animosity between you and anyone in the peloton. You seem to be a pretty popular bloke. Now that you’ve stepped up into the role of, let’s say, a ‘co-leader’ have you, therefore, gone through the roster of other Aussies to give them a call and talk about how you hope to approach it? How does that all work? Do you leave that more in McGee’s hands? You talk me through it…
“I don’t have a heap of experience of being the leader.
“Obviously, being the road captain is a different story but most of that kind of conversation happens once we get up to Innsbruck. Obviously, the guys that were at the Vuelta, we were already talking about how we were going about worlds – but, with Richie included… and starting those initial conversations.
“But once we get up to Innsbruck today, we’ll all be sitting down and getting everyone dialled in and making sure that everyone is on the same page.”
I had a quick chat with Michael Matthews yesterday. He’s up in Livigno, just enjoying some family time… it would be remiss if I didn’t reference his non-selection. Have you got any idea what’s going on with that?
“I don’t know. I haven’t had any communication on selection and I don’t really have any influence on it either.
“It definitely came as a surprise that they chose not to take him after the current form he showed in Canada.
“I’m good friends with Michael and we get along quite well. We’ve raced a lot together at the world championships and, last year, I was the last guy [from the Australian team] to help him get to [third] place [in Bergen, Norway].
“We’ve worked well together quite a few times and I wouldn’t… I’m not sure what’s happened there but obviously something gone on.”
He was saying that if he was given the opportunity, he would be basically trying to repay the favour of the last few years when he was one of the protected riders. He didn’t ever lay claim to the course being suited to him but we could say that Innsbruck is very well suited to you and Jack. Have you been around the course, given that you had a long lead-time in advance of the race, knowing that you would be part of the Australian team?
“I haven’t actually been there physically. I haven’t had time to get up there but we’ve got really good information on what the climbs are like – we’ve got videos of them and detailed gradients and distances and what-not.
“And then Zwift has also set up a climb simulation for us, up the actual worlds climb. So, I’ve been using that.
“From the reports from people who have also used the Zwift custom climb they’ve made and then also ridden the climb said it’s very similar… so, I’ll be interested to see if find it the same when I get up there.”
After I finish talking to you, I’m going to jump on Zwift and have a little spin but the sensation on the home trainer versus on the road is generally different – you know, the way that you can rise out of the saddle, for example. So, how much benefit do you get out of the home trainer and the Zwift session?
“Obviously, it’s different. It depends on what you’re doing.
“More often, riding a climb like that is not so much about training but it’s more about visualisation and trying to just get your head around the feeling of, ‘Okay, it’s a 7.5km climb at six percent…’ what that feels like, the time it’s going to take. It’s 21 or 22 minutes for most of the slower laps, and then probably around 18 minutes on the last couple of laps.
“So, it’s just about getting your head around that kind of feeling is also quite important; not so much the training aspect, just getting the feel of what it’s going to be like for when you then get there and you’re in the race, to an extent, you already feel like you’ve ridden the course many times.”
Okay. I could probably track you down and find out this information, but I’ll get it from the horse’s mouth: what’s your best time up the Zwift equivalent of the Innsbruck climb?
“Ah, nah… I haven’t been doing any Zwift tests so I couldn’t tell you that one. But just riding it actually even just on recovery days to get a feel – just cruising up it, and getting the feel of what I’m going to be riding up seven times on Sunday.”
We could talk a long time, but I’ll let you get out for your training ride. There’s only a few days to go until the worlds. But I’m trying to remember your full worlds history but there’s certainly a lot under your belt… were you there in Mendrisio in 2009?
“Yeah. So, Mendrisio was my first professional world championships as a first-year pro.
“I’ve got very good memories of Mendrisio. I was actually assigned to Cadel to look after him all day and support him for as long as I could. So, I’ve got very fond memories of that day and riding a support role for someone who actually went on to win the race.
“I think about that quite a lot and the way I supported him, and what was required from me and from him to be able to set him up for that kind of victory. And that will definitely be going through my head on Sunday.”
I remember that race very well. I’ve spoken with Cadel a lot about it but there is talk that, at one point not too long before the finish in Mendrisio – and I’m just harking back on a bit of Australian cycling history – that he’d almost pulled the pin and it was Mick Rogers who had to tell him, ‘Hey, you’re the leader, get up there and finish this race!’ Do you remember any incident like that?
“I don’t. If that happened… I hadn’t heard that story at all but if that did happen it may have been in the last couple of laps when I was no longer in the front.
“But it does happen a lot that these leaders [baulk at the prospect]…
“A similar story happened with me and Simon Gerrans the year he Liège-Bastogne-Liège; he came to me and said, ‘Look, I don’t feel so good. I think you should have a go yourself…’ This was after about 220km, with about 30km to go, and I said, ‘Look mate, I haven’t been riding for you for 230km to now be told that you’re not feeling good – so, you’ll be going good!’
“And, anyway, he went on to win it as well but obviously these leaders, in such a long race, you do get doubts. You do question yourself. ‘Am I good enough?’ ‘I don’t know if I feel good enough…’ so it’s actually quite important that you have good team-mates around you that provide that support and even, sometimes, just a bit of mental support can really go a long way.”
You’re on different trade teams but you’ll be racing in the green and gold on Sunday; let’s say it comes to a finishing situation with you and Jack in a similar picture, what’s the discussion going to be?
“Oh, I think Jack is climbing really well so I think that we just have to see. He had an amazing worlds last year and really rode amazing; if he can ride like he did last year this year he’ll be right up there in the front.
“So, it’s a bit hard say what we’re going to be saying until we get to that final and get into that situation but I’m expecting a good ride from Jack. He’ll be good.”
And I don’t think we can rule out Damien. Have you got a word or two to say about Damien Howson? He’s won a world title in the past (under-23 TT in 2013) and he’ll be back [in the green and gold jersey] and he’s always motivated to race. Do you think he could be a factor?
“Yeah, definitely. He will be one of the key guys going deep into the race with myself and Jack. And he’s obviously just done the Vuelta as well – so, Vuelta legs really count in such a hard worlds like this, so you’ll definitely see him up at the pointy end in the last couple of laps and being a part of some key moves that will really help myself and Jack.”
Simon, I know you’ve got to pull on your knicks and get out on the road for one last training session in Italy before you go up to Austria. I wish you all the best for the next few days. It would be silly not to say the name of your travel company: ‘One More Ride’… you’ve been doing travel holidays and I know it’s been well received by the clients you’ve had. Hopefully next time you’re talking about One More Ride it’ll be with a rainbow jersey.
“Yeah, that’d be great. But we’ve also got a group from One More Ride coming up to the worlds with us; they’ll be riding around the course and I’ll be chatting to them and giving them an inside run-down of what it’s like at the world championships.
“We provide that kind of experience with a lot of the races I do so anyone interested should definitely come along.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold