Clarke to the fore in Tour of Azerbaijan

Tasmanian cyclist Will Clarke was among the frontrunners at the Tour Down Under in January and is now leading the Tour of Azerbaijan. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Tasmanian cyclist Will Clarke was among the frontrunners at the Tour Down Under in January and is now leading the Tour of Azerbaijan. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

WILL Clarke's resurgence since joining Drapac has landed another major result with the Tasmanian cyclist claiming the lead in the Tour of Azerbaijan.

Five months after dropping out of the sport's elite WorldTour, the Campbell Town 29-year-old continues to star, adding to deliver eye-catching performances in the Tour Down Under, national and Oceania road titles and Tour de Perth.

After finishing level on time with the winner in the five-day tour's opening 154-kilometre stage, Clarke joined Primoz Roglic (Adria Mobil) in a breakaway on the 187km second stage from Baku to Ismayilli.

Although Roglic claimed the stage win, the pair finished nine seconds ahead of Rafael Andriato (Neri Sottoli) and 25 other chasers, the margin which represents Clarke's overall lead heading into the 180km third stage around Qabala.

They had enjoyed a lead of over two minutes during the final 80km plagued by 60km/h winds but were within sight of the chasing group by the finish line.

"We got a bit of a gap, gave full gas on the descent and then opened a bigger gap," explained Clarke, who rode with both Andy Schleck's Leopard-Trek and Dutch-based Argos- Shimano in the WorldTour before accepting Drapac's offer to ride ProContinental. "We worked well together.

"I'd like to hold on to the leader's jersey as long as possible. Hopefully I can recover well tonight so I have a lot of energy to defend the jersey."

Drapac directeur sportif Agostino Giramondo believes the team is well-placed to defend Clarke's overall lead before a queen stage featuring a 22km uphill finish and tomorrow's 202km finale around the capital Baku.

"With several climbs to do and a head wind it was a bit ambitious, but knowing Will that's what he does best," Giramondo said.

"It's going to be a hard day with a few climbs and given that Will has had a hard day today, he's certainly going to feel it.

"We will do everything to try and hold the jersey."

Launceston's Alex Clements, riding for the Australian national team, sits 79th in the tour, 29:24 behind Clarke.

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