Ramunas Navardauskas set the scene for a Cannondale Pro Cycling Team victory in Larciano when he made the early selection. The Lithuanian champion flew the Green Argyle flag in an escape of 20 riders at the start of the 200-kilometre day.
“The guys were not working together,” explained sport director Fabrizio Guidi. “Four from that group went away, and we had Ramunas inside. The bunch catch the rest, and Ramunas and his group get the lead with four minutes.”
The peloton struggled to catch the breakaway riders when they began to chase. It took a concerted effort by Astana to close the gap. With the breakaway’s advantage waning, Ramunas set off alone.
“The climb is really steep in the first half and the second half is quite flat, false flat, like two or three percent,” explained Clarke. “We got to the last 100 metres of the really steep part to get to the false flat, and I saw Ramunas in the front. I looked around, and we still had five guys from the team in a very small group. I know it’s better to be in front of a race than trying to play catch-up, and that’s when I decided to jump across to Ramunas.”
By that point, Navardauskas has spent nearly 200-kilometres at the front, but Clarke was confident in his teammate’s ability to help him get a gap over the reduced bunch.
“We all know how strong Ramunas is,” Clarke said. “If he saw me coming across, even though it was in the break all day, I knew he could give me a couple more strong turns. It’s exactly what he did.”
Clarke had 20 seconds over the peloton at the top of the climb. There were 6km remaining – a 4km descent followed by a 2km flat run-in.
“I only needed to hold it to the finish,” said Clarke.
Clarke didn’t just hold the gap, he stretched it out even further, crossing the finish line 33-seconds ahead of a trio of riders including teammate Rigoberto Uran.
“I knew if I was given the opportunity, if I saw the opportunity, I could deliver,” said Clarke. “The team’s just had a really good camp in Tenerife. We all worked really hard over there. I did everything I thought was right these last couple weeks, and I knew I had good condition.”