In stage four of the Vuelta a España of 2012, Simon Clarke earned his first professional victory by outsprinting his escape companion, the reigning world TT champion Tony Martin. The young Australian has been featured in RIDE Cycling Review over the years. Back in 2010, he wrote a column explaining how he came to cycling. Given what he’s just achieved in Spain, we thought it was worth publishing a flashback from RIDE #50. He was about to start a season racing with the Astana team and, since then, he’s become an integral member of the Orica-GreenEdge outfit.
Here’s Simon’s explanation take on his “steady progression”.
The steady progression…
By Simon Clarke (first published October 2010 – RIDE #50)
There are many reasons why cyclists are lured to the racing scene. For Simon Clarke, the journey to a place on the Astana team for the 2011 season began by chance on the Great Victorian Bike ride several years ago…
On my mountain bike with 24-inch wheels and the Family and Friends group from Selby primary school, I set off to battle the 600-plus kilometre course over nine days. Much to my surprise I got through it without too much trouble. Throughout the following year my enthusiasm grew for my newly discovered sport and the next November I went again, this time with a nicer bike and a bit more of an idea of what I was in for.
It was during my second GVBR that I was presented to Dean Woods. The Olympic gold medal winner from the team pursuit in 1984 and a professional cyclist during the 1990s, he was a patron for the ride, a celebrity from the racing scene. I had the privilege of riding with him for a day, along with 60 or so other school kids, who were all about four or five years older than I was at the time. Once we started getting towards the end of the day and our designated campsite for that night, I realised that I was the only one left who was still able to keep up with Dean. The rest of the kids had fallen behind. It was at this stage that Woods came to me with some words of encouragement. He uttered a few words that would have a lasting effect on what I did after my school days: “You really should join a club. You have lasted longer than the other kids.”
Until then, I had never thought of this bike riding business actually being a sport where you raced each other.
In the months after my second GVBR, I found myself toying with the idea of going down and trying cycling as a competitive sport. As a young kid I had tried virtually every sport on offer and had a real desire to make it to the top but seemed to fall short for some reason or another every time.
I played basketball but was too short. I tried tennis but didn’t have the Midas touch. I enjoyed swimming but it didn’t click – perhaps my feet were too small. I stood around on the volleyball court but once again felt too short to have an influence on the game. On the football field I lacked the rough-and-toughness. In baseball I didn’t have a quick enough arm. And doing athletics I just couldn’t stay with the best…
The idea of the sport where there was no prerequisite for body shape appealed to me. It was then that I went down to the Carnegie Caulfield Cycling Club and officially joined.
The first couple of years I raced at club level while learning the tricks of the trade. When the road nationals came around in 2000, I made the state team as an under-15, and thought this could be an opportunity. I prepared as best I could, and went down to tackle the race in Tasmania. Much to my surprise I came home with a bronze medal in the time trial and fourth in the road race. It was at that point that I thought, ‘This could just be my sport’. I had been racing on the bike for not even two years and I had managed to medal at nationals.
I spent the next couple of years developing my cycling skills on the national scene, and raced all over Australia. Once I got to junior level, riding was starting to take over. I had dropped all my other sports and life was either about school or cycling. With this attitude, I graduated to being selected for the team for the junior world championships, first of all as a road racer and, the next year, both track and road.
It was from those achievements that I was offered a place in the AIS cycling program. I spent the following four years competing in Italy developing as a rider. In 2008, my last year at the Institute of Sport, I was approached by an Italian team called Amica Chips. The company had sponsored a team nine years earlier and it planned to do so again for the 2009 season. Although it wasn’t exactly the ProTour team I had dreamed of, it was my only option to continue racing in Italy and the squad had big plans to develop. I accepted that it was to be another chapter in my attempt to finally make it as a pro after more than 10 years of cycling. Unfortunately, not even three months into the existence of the team, it folded due to financial difficulties.
I was stranded in Europe and left questioning myself after all these years living abroad. It wasn’t the ideal start to my pro career. Instead of racing, I was left to consider what I should do now given that I was officially unemployed. After three months of riding around without a team, I managed to arrange a deal with the ISD team to race out the rest of the season. My dream was back on track and I set the goal of making the Australian team for the world championships in Mendrisio. I managed to get back to form quickly enough, made the selection and was there to support Cadel in his gold medal ride.
This year, after having had such a disrupted season in 2009, it was always going to be very difficult for me to find a ProTour team especially with the lack of racing and the rare chance to post a result. And so I stayed with ISD for another year.
Throughout the 2010 season I concentrated on doing my job knowing that there are always other opportunities. I focused my energy on working for the team, picking up a result when I could and aimed to move up to the ProTour peloton for 2011. Most of my training was done with Cadel and Michael Rogers who were there to help with my progression, and I used Simon Gerrans as my inspiration to do what I dreamed of. He made roughly the same progression that I was hoping to: he turned pro with AG2R when it was a division-two team and spent two years with them before moving into the top tier.
Things are looking positive. I’ve reached an agreement with the Astana team and a new phase of my career begins in 2011.
It still feels too good to be true and it will until I do my first race with their jersey on my shoulders. While Alberto Contador is leaving the squad at the end of the season, next year is still going to be really exciting. Astana has signed a lot of guys who are around my age, talents that are knocking on the door to replace Contador, such as Roman Kreuziger, Robert Kiserlovski and Francesco Masciarelli. Having this young talent base working with the experience of Alexandre Vinokourov and directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli – who is famous for developing riders such as Marco Pantani, Gilberto Simoni and Damiano Cunego – it is definitely going to be something great to be a part of. Next year is going to be huge for me and hope just as exciting for those of you watching.
– By Simon Clarke