Not including the sixth-place result posted by EF Education First in the team time trial on Stage 2, Australian rouleur Simon Clarke is quietly—albeit painfully—making a showing at this year's Tour de France after adding an 11th-place finish on Stage 17 to a pair of ninths earned last week.
The two-time Vuelta a España stage winner and 2012 king of the mountain, who most recently finished second at the Amstel Gold Race (UCI 1.UWT) this year, as well as runner-up on general classification at Tour de la Provence (2.1), found himself in the breakaway—his fourth of the race—after a large group of 33 riders split from the peloton early in the 200-kilometre stage from Pont du Gard and Gap.
A veteran of 13 grand tours now, including two Giro d'Italia's, six Vuelta's and his fifth Tour, the 33-year-old Victorian claims this is his best form to date at the grandest tour of them all despite admitting on Twitter his pins may have failed him on the day.
“I’ve tried for many years to get into breakaways at the Tour,” said Clarke, who was joined in the break by his New Zealand team-mate Tom Scully. “This is the first Tour that I’ve been in four breakaways. I have the best legs in this Tour in the five I’ve done. I’m trying to make the most of them.”
Clarke credited the 29-year-old Kiwi for helping him nearly crack a fourth top 10 of the race after the duo managed to make the final 10 to split from the break that had enjoyed as much as a 14-minute gap with 40km to race.
“Scud followed the right move,” said Clarke. “Hats off to him. He did a great job. When he lost contact, there was no way I would have gotten nearly as close as I did to the front without him. He did a massive turn for me on the climb.”
Matteo Trentin of Mitchelton-Scott won the stage off the back of a late-race attack. It is the fourth win for the Australian-registered UCI WorldTour team, which Clarke spent four years with before moving to Cannondale-turned-EF Education First in 2016.
EF struggled early with a pair of crashes that sent American Tejay van Garderen home and put Canadian Michael Woods in the hurt locker with a set of broken ribs. Team leader Rigoberto Urán is currently ninth on GC with four days of racing remaining.
“Every time you try, you take a chink out of your armor,” said Clarke. “Fourth time for me, that’s four chinks. I gave my heart out there. It hurts to make it into the breakaway and have it finish the way it did, but we’re going to keep chipping away.”