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With a  course record of 2.34, Clarke blasted through the 2.1km prologue in Melbourne to win the first test at the Herald Sun Tour and become the first leader; Ewan was second and van der Ploeg third

Photo: Herald Sun Tour 2016

DRAPAC PORSCHE CYCLING

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HERALD SUN TOUR

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WILLIAM CLARKE

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03.02.2016 @ 13:05 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

William Clarke (Drapac) is known as one of the best prologue riders in Australia and he confirmed his status by taking a second consecutive win in the short 2.1km prologue that usually opens the Herald Sun Tour. Like last year he beat Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE) into second as he was one second faster than the young sprinter while Neil van der Ploeg (Avanti) was two seconds off the pace in third. Clarke is the first leader of the race.

 

Prologue victories in Asia and Oceania have turned William Clarke into a perennial favourite for every short time trial. Last year he proved his status on home soil when he won the 2.1km prologue in Melbourne that kicks off proceedings at Australia’s oldest stage race, the Herald Sun Tour.

 

His status as defending champion made him one of the pre-race favourites for the 2016 edition of the stage but he faced tough competition from an in-form Caleb Ewan who was less than a second off the pace 12 months ago. Many expected the youngster to come out on top after his splendid showing in recent weeks but Clarke stepped up his game and with a course record he defended his title.

 

Unlike Ewan who was the final rider to hit the short, technical course, Clarke had opted for an early start and when he crossed the line, he had gone two seconds faster than previous leader Neil van der Ploeg who was fifth 12 months ago. That set him up for a long, nervous wait in the hot seat but he could watch while none of the sprinters or prologue specialists failed to get to within five seconds of his time.

 

It soon became clear that only Ewan would have a chance to beat him and the Australian was clearly motivated for his ride. However, when he reached the finish, he was one second off the pace and had to settle for another second place, with van der Ploeg completing the podium.

 

However, most had their attention on a completely different story as the race marked the debut of Toru de France champion Chris Froome (Sky). The Brit is not suited to this kind of explosive effort and he had a reasonable ride to finish 27th, 8 seconds behind Clarke.

 

In fact, Froome could face a battle for the captaincy role at Sky as his in-form teammate Peter Kennaugh was one of the best GC riders in the stage, finishing 8th just 5 seconds off the pace. Robbie Hucker, Joe Cooper (both Avanti) and Damien Howson (Orica-GreenEDGE) were other GC riders who made it into the top 10 while Jack Haig, the Orica-GreenEDGE leader, lost 11 seconds to the stage winner.

 

With the win, Clarke becomes the first leader of the race but he literally faces an uphill battle if he wants to defend his position in the first road stage. After a flat start and a category 2 climb, the riders will tackle the category 1 Myers Creek Road before they descend the final 21km to the finish in Healesville, meaning that the riders can make their mark right from the beginning of the race.

 

A short opener

The 2016 Herald Sun Tour kicked off with the same short 2.1km prologue in Melbourne that was used for last year’s race. It was a technical affair with several corners and a few small climb which made it a perfect stage for the sprinters and explosive prologue specialists.

 

The morning rain had disappeared by the time Michael Storer (Australia) rolled down the ramp as the first rider for the twilight stage. He stopped the clock in 2.49 but didn’t even get a chance to sit in the hot seat as the third rider on the course, Ryan Cavanagh (State of Matter) was 7 seconds faster.

 

Shaw takes the lead

Dylan Newbery (Data#3) was one second faster than Storer but was pushed into third by Nathan Elliott (Kenyan Riders) who was fractions of a second faster. Moments later, Patrick Shaw (Avanti) became the first leader with a time that was less than a second better than Cavanagh’s mark.

 

Steven Lampier (JLT) slotted into third with 2.44 while sprinter Steele von Hoff (ONE) had a disappointing ride with 2.46. Tanner Putt (Unitedhealthcare) was one second faster to move into fourth.

 

Hucker surprises

Thomas Scully (Drapac) was left frustrated as he missed out on the lead by less than a second but everybody had their eyes on Jack Bobridge (Trek) who lived up to expectations by going two seconds faster than Shaw with 2.40. Salvatore Puccio (Sky) had a disappointing rider with 2.44.

 

Ryan Thomas (Data#3) slotted into fifth but it was Robbie Hucker (Avanti) who delivered the big surprise. The Australian stopped the clock in 2.37 to go 3 seconds faster than Bobridge and take an early lead.

 

Bewley gets close

He was challenged by Dion Smith (ONE) who was one of the outsiders and was just 2 seconds off the pace in second place. Daniel Summerhill (Unitedhealthcare) had a good ride to slot into fourth before Sebastian Henao (Sky) had a surprisingly good ride with 2.41 which was good enough for fifth.

 

Hucker got a scare when Sam Bewley (Orica-GreenEDGE) powered towards the line but his time of 2.39 was only good enough for second. Sprinter Jesse Kerrisson (State of Matter) was just a fractions of a second slower which was good enough for third.

 

Van der Ploeg moves into the hot seat

Neil van der Ploeg (Avanti) was close to the win last year and was one of the pre-race favourites. He became the rider to beat his teammate Hucker as he went one second faster and moved into the lead.

 

Nicolas Marini (Nippo) used his sprint skills to move into seventh and James Oram (ONE) posted the ninth best time. Another sprinter, John Murphy (Unitedhealthcare), was even faster as he posted the sixth best time.

 

Best time for Clarke

Clarke had opted for an early start and already hit the course at this point. Everybody expected him to take the lead and with a time of 2.34, he went two seconds faster than van der Ploeg.

 

Niccolo Bonifazio (Trek) was the next sprinter to do well as he posted the fifth best time, 5 seconds off the mark.  That was fractions of a second faster than Damien Howson (Orica-GreenEDGE) who moved into sixth.

 

Ewan misses out

Climbing talent Chris Hamilton (Australia) had a very good ride to finish just 6 seconds off the pace and Nathan Earle (Drapac) was less than a second faster while Luke Rowe (Sky) was less than a second slower. It was a disappointment for GC contender Jack Haig (Orica-GreenEDGE) who lost 11 seconds.

 

Anthony Giacoppo continued the great Avanti showing by posting the 7th best time and Christoper Lawless (JLT) just missed out on the top 10 with 11th. Peter Kennaugh (Sky) again proved his good form as he posted the sixth best time, 5 seconds off the pace.

 

Last year’s third place Joe Cooper made it four Avanti riders in the top 10 when he slotted into fourth with a time of 2.38. Most of the late starters were unable to challenge the leaders though and everybody was eagerly awaiting the arrival of Froome and Ewan. Froome stopped the clock in 2.42 to slot into 26th before Ewan narrowly missed out on victory by just a single second.

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