Simon Clarke Wins Two-Man Sprint in Stage 4 of Vuelta a Espana
Team GreenEdge's Simon Clarke took his first professional win in his Grand Tour debut in the fourth stage of the Vuelta a España 2012. Having eyed the stage ever since he reviewed the route, Clarke set himself up perfectly for his career-changing result atop the Valdezcaray summit finish.
"I had always had a bit of a circle around this stage," an ecstatic Clarke commented after being celebrated on the podium. "Yesterday was a hard day, and it presented a chance to lose some time and move off the general classification, so I did that intentionally. I thought Movistar might allow the breakaway to go today as long as no one in the move was a threat to the race leader."
Clarke joined Tony Martin (Team Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Assan Bazayev (Astana), Jesus Rosendo (Andalucia) and Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) in a five-rider escape group during the opening hour of racing. The quartet built up a maximum lead of more than 13 minutes.
"Although we had such a huge gap, I never thought it was assured that we would stay away," Clarke admitted. "There was so much wind, and I know what can happen in these conditions. When the field gets going, they can easily sit on 60 km/h, and the break can be caught out going more slowly. Even with 13 minutes, I wasn't convinced that we were going to stay away."
Thirty kilometers from the finish crosswinds and a crash split the field into four distinct groups. The first, headed by Vuelta GC favorite Chris Froome and the rest of Team Sky, set a ferocious pace that would distance the riders that had missed out on the move and more than halve the gap to Clarke's breakaway before the base of the summit finish.
"I was getting a bit of information while I was in the break," Clarke explained and continued "I didn't know about the crash, but I did know the Sky had attacked in the wind and the pace had picked up. I started to get nervous about that. Being out front for so long, it's not easy to decide to suddenly go ten kilometers/hour faster. We sat out there and kept doing what we had been doing, hoping we would have enough time for the finish."
Martin and Clarke separated themselves from the five-man breakaway group as they pressed on towards the foot of the Valdezcaray climb. The duo had a four minute advantage as they began the nine kilometer climb to the finish.
"I was motivated to get into the breakaway," Martin explained after the stage finish. "The whole team was in the front in the first kilometers. I took the first attack and we went immediately. The pace in the breakaway was really good, we collaborated very well. In the last climb I hadn't the energy to make the difference, especially because of the heat. It was another incredibly hot day."
When asked to describe the final kilometers and the sprint itself, Martin told Roadcycling.com "I tried to leave him to take the lead but he stayed with me. I launched the sprint but I knew he was faster then me. I'm happy about my race. Today was really hot and wasn't so easy to stay in the front with only five guys. My condition is improving. I trained good before coming here and I'm really looking forward to the time trial next week and — why not — to try to grab a stage victory in one of the next stages."
"Luckily, Tony was feeling strong, and we were able to work well together until we reached the top," Clarke described. "I really backed myself in the sprint finish. I was confident I could beat Tony in a sprint, so I had to be careful that he didn't attack me in a moment of lost concentration in the closing kilometers. At the same time, I was a bit worried about Bazayev, who was only about 20 seconds behind us. I knew he wasn't far off our pace, and he's a fast finisher. I didn't want to go to the line with him."
Clarke and Martin held off all of their pursuers. The stage win came down to a two-up sprint.
"I wanted Tony to lead out the sprint, and I knew I needed to wait long enough to come around him," Clarke explained. "With a hilltop finish, you don't have a 400 meter sprint left in your legs, so it's important to wait. In the end, Tony was the one to go too early. I followed him and waited. I made sure I saw the 200 meter sign before I started my sprint. From there, I went for it and it worked out."
The general classification is led by Team Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez ahead of Team Sky's Christopher Froome and Alberto Contador of Team Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank.
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