• Simon Clarke at La Fleche Wallonne 2019 (Getty)Source: Getty
They say you can’t teach an old(er) dog new tricks but that’s not the case for Simon Clarke, the road captain now relearning how to think, train and try to win races as a contender. Watch him in action again on Sunday night LIVE from 10pm AEST at the 2019 Liège-Bastogne-Liège on SBS VICELAND.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
26 Apr 2019 - 3:55 PM  UPDATED 26 Apr 2019 - 4:12 PM

The burgeoning transformation has been a more mental than physical challenge but one that the 32-year-old has begun to see results from at the Ardennes Classics.

Clarke (EF Education First) recorded a personal best at Amstel Gold Race last week, finishing second to Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) in a reduced group sprint where he was unable to come around the wheel of the wunderkind.

WATCH the spectacular finish to last weekend's Amstel Gold:

The Australian felt the pinch from the effort at Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday, in which he was 23rd, but is buoyed for another all-in assault at Liege-Bastogne-Liege this weekend.

“Amstel was amazing. I’ve always really liked that race and I’ve always thought it’s suited my characteristics but for so many years I’d gone there with Michael Matthews or Simon Gerrans as team-mates. As much as I was always happy to ride for them, it quashed my chances of getting a result or at least having a go. I’ve literally just focused on my own performance and it’s really made a big difference,” he told Cycling Central.

Clarke described the change as a mini two-year project at the behest of EF Education First, and he is racing at certain periods as a contender and reassuming captaincy at others.

“Once you go to so many races riding support and constantly thinking about your teammates, you kind of forget yourself how to win bike races,” he said, referring to similar sentiment of Trek-Segafredo’s Koen de Kort.

“When you start doing the role of helping others you think physically you’re not good enough; you’re good enough to be there until the final, but you don’t have the legs for the final because you end up spending so much energy all day supporting your leaders.

Watch the 2019 Liège-Bastogne-Liège LIVE, FREE and in HD from 10pm AEST Sunday 28 April on SBS Viceland or streaming via Cycling Central and SBS On Demand. 

“You come to think that’s your limit and that’s as good as you can be. Mentally you talk yourself out of the possibility of being a contender in these big races. But if you are to ride these races from kilometre zero for yourself, you can have a massively different outcome arriving at the final with the legs to be able to be competitive,” Clarke continued.

“It’s confidence and self-belief, knowing that you do have the legs and the energy inside you somewhere that you can deliver these kind of results -- and racing with that mentality. I’ve been working on that and getting there.”

Clarke will again be one of three team leaders at Liege-Bastogne-Liege including Tour of Flanders champion Alberto Bettiol and Michael Woods.

The two-time Vuelta a Espana stage winner has been driven by the encouragement of his team but also critics that did not believe he could maintain form, which saw Clarke finish second overall on season debut at the Tour La Provence, up until now.

“Everyone was like, he’s had a good start to the season and then we probably won’t see him again after that. I was really motivated for this Ardennes week to prove it wasn’t just a fluke. I can be consistently at this level,” he said.

“I’m pretty keen for another big one in Liege. I think it’s going to be cold and wet, which is a big contrast to Amstel. Riding safely so to speak is going to be quite a priority on Sunday to be able to get a good result, as opposed to just racing like we did in Amstel.

“The good thing is we’ve got a really good group of guys here and no one is racing against each other. There is no inner-team competition. We can easily have a three-prong attack and know we’re going to come out with the best result possible.”

WATCH Sophie Smith's interview with Simon Clarke from earlier this year:

Clarke has worked closely with his coach this year to observe a training programme where he maintains condition, rather than over or under doing it in-between races, to arrive where he is now.

“That’s one of the trickiest things to achieve, from a training point of view, because the build-up is relatively simple. But once you’re at optimal condition, to know how much you need to do to stay there, it’s a thin line,” he said

The team-work has extended from the race convoy through the Ardennes Classics as well, with some ingenuity from sports director Tom Southam, dispatching Clarke with rival names instead of potentially inaccurate time checks at Amstel paying off.

“By the time a time check was timed and then relayed over the race radio, and he [Southam] repeated it to me that situation had already changed. In the end he said these are the guys in front of you and he said that way I could count off each one I caught and piece things together myself,” Clarke said. “It was a pretty big emotional rollercoaster in those last couple of kilometres.”

Clarke has extended his Ardennes calendar to include Eschborn-Frankfurt (LIVE Wednesday 1 May streaming from 8.05pm AEST and on SBS Viceland at 11.50pm AEST), making up numbers for the team, following Liege. He will then take a race break.


Other Liège-Bastogne-Liège news:

Vincenzo Nibali will take to the start for Bahrain Merida while Bora-hansgrohe's Peter Sagan has withdrawn from the race which could be a good chance for team mate and Australian Jay McCarthy. 

McCarthy will also be joined by other Australians Clarke, Michael Matthews, Chris Hamilton, Rob Power (all Sunweb who is also suiting up Tom Dumoulin for the race), Damien Howson, Nick Schultz (both Mitchelton-Scott), Nathan Haas (Katusha Alpecin) and Rory Sutherland (UAE). 

Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Roman Kreuziger (Dimension Data) recovered from their Fleche Wallonne crashes and are set to start. 

Some of the other favourites and other big names set to start: Julian Alaphilippe, Bob Jungels, Enris Mas, Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa (Movistar), Michael Valgren (Dimension Data), Bjorg Lambrecht, Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) Romain Bardet (Ag2R), Alexey Lutsenko, Ion and Gorka Izagirre, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Michael Woods (EF Education First), Dan Martin (UAE), Michal Kwiatkowski, Geraint Thomas, Wout Poels (Sky's last race). 

Who do Christophe and Pat fancy for Liège-Bastogne-Liège? Listen to the latest episode of the Zwift Cycling Central podcast:

Watch the 2019 Liège-Bastogne-Liège LIVE, FREE and in HD from 10pm AEST Sunday 28 April on SBS Viceland or streaming via Cycling Central and SBS On Demand.