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The 35-year-old Australian on Israel-Premier Tech knows he could be watching the race on TV rather than dusting things up in the iconic race over the gravel roads of Tuscany.
“I could be sitting in an office job right now,” Clarke told VeloNews. “I am appreciating the situation I am in, and I am making the most of it.”
Clarke, a two-time stage-winner at the Vuelta a España, certainly has reason to be thankful. The all-rounder’s career was on the chopping block this winter when the Qhubeka-NextHash could not firm up sponsors going into 2022.
A late-hour deal opened the door to join Israel-Premier Tech, and he’s coming out gangbusters into what he views as a second lease on his professing racing career.
“I appreciate them taking me at the last minute when all the team budgets are signed off. They made an exception for me, and this is me saying ‘thank you,'” Clarke said. “I’ve been feeling great. A bit of extra motivation always helps. Why? Just having a team, from being in the situation I was in. I want to pay them back.”
So far, Clarke is already paying dividends to the team. He’s been one of the most prolific riders on the Israel-Premier Tech roster in the early days of 2022.
He hit three top-10s at his season opener at the Mallorca Challenge and finished second in stage 3 at the Ruta del Sol. Only a late-stage attack from eventual winner Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers) by the American rookie denied him the victory.
A solid 11th place at the hard-fought Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, when he won the bunch sprint out of the second chasing group, confirmed Clarke is on an early-season boil going into Strade Bianche.
Jakob Fuglsang is also slated to start for Israel-Premier Tech as the team ramps up for the spring classics.
Clarke said he’s champing at the bit to race Strade Bianche, which he described as one of his favorite races of the season. He’s enjoyed success on the white roads of Tuscany before, finishing eighth in both 2019 and 2021, and 17th in 2018.
‘My results have shown that I’m not finished with cycling yet’
So what’s his take on gravel, and the sport’s growing tendency to see more of it sprinkled across the road racing calendar?
“I think it’s great in one-day races when it’s known that this is a gravel race,” Clarke said. “I’m not sure about throwing it into stage races. But all that’s above my pay grade, those kinds of decisions.”
He’ll be busy across the spring, and then try to earn a spot on the Tour de France squad.
“I am on the long list for the Tour de France, but there is a long way to go before that,” he said. “Right now, I am just focusing on having a good spring season, and we’ll see what happens after that.”
Right now, Clarke is just enjoying the ride. Racing is a lot more fun than sitting in an office.
“I had quite a few options if I was going to stop, but I just really felt like I wasn’t ready to stop,” Clarke said. “I feel like my results in the first couple of races have shown that I am not finished with cycling yet.”
So far, he’s been proving that.