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.
Herald Sun Tour 2016 – prologue results:
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