EF-Drapac stacked its team with big men to guide Rigoberto Urán to the mountains without time loss. It almost worked. Procycling spoke to Simon Clarke, the rider who directed the resources
Simon Clarke, on being road captain of EF
In the first two stages, I was the wheel Rigo followed in the final.
I have quite specific theories about where to ride in the bunch to avoid crashes and how to approach finals. It’s not necessarily in an energyconserving manner, but in a safe manner to avoid incidents. Stage 1 was a minefield but we weren’t at the front of the arrow head and we didn’t crash. I did extra homework the night before. When the director got to the end and saw Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte had all lost time and we didn’t, they were like, “That went well” and we’re like, “You’ve got no idea!” Everywhere we rode in that final was calculated. It was the same the next day. Strategy and planning is where I can have the biggest influence. Rigo can be at home training and can do seven watts a kilo for however long, but if I don’t deliver him to the mountains in a winning position, it doesn’t matter how many watts he can do.
The sports directors were keen I saved myself on stage 4.
I agreed with that. I handed over responsibility to lead Rigo into the final of stage 4 [Sarzeau] to the other boys. Rigo crashed and by no means was it anyone’s fault but I made a mistake by not being involved. I feel that if I had been involved we would’ve been in a different position in the final. But between all the team-mates who were involved in helping him back, I don’t think we said one word to each other. Rigo crashed and Daniel Martinez was already standing there with his bike. A couple of others were getting up off the ground. I just missed the crash and was ready to help. It was like rolling off a ramp in a team time trial: we were all ready to go. I’m so glad Rigo didn’t lose time.
On stage 5 I was in my element because I love the Classics. I’ve
done them every year since I turned professional. When they said stage 5 was a mini-Amstel that was ringing bells for me. I know how to ride Amstel and I had guys to help me help Rigo. I just made sure I didn’t get carried away and just rode the same way I rode Amstel. Even though it was really twisty roads I found that one of the easier days to lead the team – and the day after as well at Mûr-de-Bretagne. Rigo lost a fraction of time there, but I think that was mainly due to being badly positioned. I counted back and when Richie Porte accelerated, Rigo was 23rd or 24th wheel and that’s a little bit too far back when you can’t trust guys in front of you to not drop wheels.
The pavé stage was extracurricular.
My ideas about riding finals go out the window when you’re racing cobbles. I relied heavily on Sep Vanmarcke and Taylor Phinney and they did an awesome job. Until 30km to go we had the perfect race. We were always in the front; we had no crashes, no one punctured and everyone helped – even Pierre [Rolland] had an awesome ride. There was 100 per cent commitment from the team but unfortunately Rigo came unstuck on a couple of
corners. By the time he was stood up, I’d given him my bike and we had four other team-mates there to ride him back. In the end he didn’t get back but we were organised as a team. Without that you have no chance at all.
I still see so many teams where guys are just losing minutes – even in this Tour.
Dan Martin crashed and lost 1:15 [stage 8]. There were photos of him waiting for a bike. Or Ilnur Zakarin, who was in the same crash as Rigo [stage 4] and he lost 1:05 when Rigo lost nothing. Sky do it so well. Not only do they have really strong riders but they ride united. Even if you don’t have the same riders as them, you don’t have to sit on the front of the whole Tour to win the Tour de France, but you have to have a united team. There are definitely things to take away from Sky and integrate into your team in a different style.
In the last couple of years I was at Orica, I started doing some of the stuff road captains do unofficially.
I saw a gap between what the directors wanted to be done and I really wanted to make sure that guys were honouring their roles during the race. I always try to do it in a constructive way. People aren’t taking offence but at the same time they’re getting the job done.
I came to this team seeing guys with pretty big personal ambitions and I really saw a lack of in-race coherence.
That’s why I’ve made such a big effort in these last couple of years in the Ride Argyle family to try and unite riders on the road. Having raced against them for so many years, I felt like that was one of their weaknesses. They had some strong riders but they always had very little support. They always had one or two committed guys and the rest were kind of floating around. You can drill a race plan as hard as you want into a team on the bus, but once they’re sent out onto the race what they do is pretty much out of your control.
It’s not easy to tell people what to do when you are the road captain.
It is especially so in a sport where you’re dealing with egos and personal ambitions and you’re trying to convince them to work for someone else. But it’s all done through friendships. There’s no difference between me and the other riders, it’s just that I’m responsible for making decisions. I really enjoy making decisions, and I’m the first to admit it if I make a wrong decision. I find a lot of guys hesitate, or are not sure, or ask a team-mate…you just can’t hesitate. You’re better off making a wrong decision quickly than hesitating. I see that with guys that lead other teams; they might have a bag of experience but you have to make crunch decisions. They sometimes struggle on making that call.