It’s no wonder William Clarke came out of his neo-pro season feeling like a piece of meat, because that’s exactly how he was treated, writes Anthony Tan in Victor Harbor.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM


Comment of the day was, 'the 20 million-dollar teams are chasing the kid without a contract' – ABC Grandstand

The ABC wasn't quite correct. William Clarke does have a contract for 2012, with China-based team, Champion Systems.

But
it's not in the WorldTour (Champions Systems has this year been awarded
a Pro Continental licence), which, after the 26-year-old's captivating
ride to Stirling Wednesday, it's a place he clearly deserves to be. 'Do
you see your performance as some sort of affirmation that you should be in the WorldTour?' I asked him, post-race.

He
replied: "I didn't really think about it much [during the race]. But I
think I've got the strength to be in the WorldTour, and I think today, I
showed I can ride at this level, definitely."

'Do you think the bunch underestimated you, particularly after you lost almost two minutes the previous day?'

"I
really struggled yesterday [Tuesday]," admitted Clarke. "I think it was
to do with the heat, and sometimes on the first stage [of a tour] I
don't have the best legs; it takes a while to open up. I was getting
better towards the end of the [first] stage but today I had good legs
and, yeah… I kept going," he said, smiling.

'How have you pulled up today?' I asked him in Unley this morning.

"I'll
probably find out pretty soon when I start riding. It's a pretty hard
start, straight up a pretty nasty little climb… but hopefully I get over
that okay."

'Now, tell me what happened with Leopard-Trek,' I
then said to him. 'Did the team look after you properly – did you race
enough?'

"No, no, I raced probably too much last year. I did
about 85 race starts," said Clarke. "So… I think I may be stronger
[now], but I was tired for most of the year, my first professional year,
racing a lot."

'Did you tell your sport directors you were feeling over-raced and fatigued?'

"I
was sort of going from race to race, so it did make it hard. Because
it's your [first pro] team, you sort of… go to which races they tell you
[to do]."

'What about Stuey O'Grady, who, by way of
recommendation, helped get you onto the team in the first place –
couldn't he have said something?'

"Well, it's not really up to
Stuey or anything – it's up to the team, as to which races I do. I was
always happy to race; probably as a first-year, I was a bit
inexperienced as to how many races I can handle. And I think that was
about as much as I can handle."

Clarke's too polite to say it,
but it was more than he – or virtually any other neo-pro, for that
matter – could handle. To me, what is clear is that Leopard-Trek treated
him like a piece of meat; had he not been so strong-willed, it may have
spelled the end of his career.

Because when you keep flogging a piece of meat, it no longer serves its purpose. It becomes a piece of crap.

When
the Leopard merger happened with RadioShack, management decided it was
then opportune to throw the 'crap' in the bin. And so, in September, he
was discarded.

"It was kind of late, but I wasn't the only one in
that situation. A lot of teams had stopped and fallen apart. That's
just the way it happened."

In early October, when a deal with
another ProTeam looked unlikely (but why GreenEDGE did not sign this man
with a not insignificant degree of talent perplexes me), he approached
Champion Systems.

Long-time sport-director turned team manager,
Ed Beamon (previously with Navigators and Team Type 1), saw the
potential. "I signed with them soon after that," said Clarke.

"He's
[Beamon] got a lot of experience, and I think, being on a smaller team
is sometimes better for your development. It gives you a bit more time,
and less pressure to do something."

Heading over to Champion
Systems' team HQ in China next week to meet the team (which includes
another Australian, Aaron Kemps) and map out a race program, Clarke is,
more than ever, ready to prove his worth.

Will's already shown it once this year. And so long as he's properly looked after, he'll show it again.

Twitter: @anthony_tan