Australian veteran Simon Clarke triumphs to death in drama-strewn Tour de France stage | Tour de France

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Australian cycling veteran Simon Clarke scored a magnificent ultimate Tour de France triumph to cap 20 years of hard work on European roads after a brutal, accident-strewn cobbled stage.

But while the 35-year-old Israeli Premier Tech rider was left in streams of joyful tears after he pulled off a breathtaking sprint to win stage five in a photo-finish on Wednesday, it proved a calamitous day for Australia’s greatest hitters on the tour.

Bahrain Victorious leader Jack Haig retired from the race after an accident while AG2R Citroën’s Ben O’Connor, Australia’s best hope of winning the title, suffered a disastrous day after a mechanical breakdown, finishing more than three minutes of race favorite, champion Tadej Pogačar.

And there was more misery on the grand tour for Australian star sprinter Caleb Ewan, who suffered a bad crash running headlong into a protective bale of hay that had come loose on the side of the road 30km away. of the end.

Medical staff assess Caleb Ewan after his accident. Photography: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images

Clarke’s decisive triumph came after a chaotic 157km drive from Lille to Arenberg, with over 19km of the ‘Hell of the North’ cobblestones around Roubaix, which were bound to cause havoc – and certainly did. .

Belgian Wout van Aert was one of many to fall off his bike, but returned home unscathed to retain the overall lead.

Pogačar gained time on all his rivals, including a huge piece on his Slovenian friend and rival, Primož Roglič, one of the pre-race favourites, who also fell in the incident that floored Ewan.

Although Roglič dislocated his shoulder, then brought it back to himself and carried on – he is already more than two and a quarter minutes behind fourth-placed Pogačar before the Tour even hits the mountains.

It was the happiest day of Clarke’s 13-year professional career after the Melburnian, whose previous career highlights had won two stages at the Vuelta a España and was part of a team time trial victory in the 2013 Tour, pulled out all the stops to win. by the width of a hair.

Sprinting over the remnants of an early breakaway, the Aussie timed his final shot perfectly in a thrilling four-man denouement, edging out Dutchman Taco van der Hoorn.

Simon Clarke (right) pushes his wheel over the finish line past Taco van der Hoorn of the Netherlands in Wednesday's spectacular finish
Simon Clarke (right) pushes his wheel across the finish line past Taco van der Hoorn of the Netherlands in Wednesday’s spectacular finish. Photograph: Daniel Cole/AP

It was an incredible result for Clarke, who wondered if he had reached the end of his career last winter when he found himself without a team.

“Having Israel call me and say, ‘We’ll give you that chance,’ just gives you such a reality to make the most of every opportunity,” Clarke said.

“All year this season, I’ve come out in every race swinging.

“I still can’t believe I got him on the line there. Taco was well ahead of me with less than 50 yards to go. I had cramps in both legs and just lined up the biggest throw possible and I just prayed it was enough.

“I have to watch the replay, I still don’t really believe it!

“I moved to Europe when I was 16 – and I’m 36 on the second day off [18 July]. It’s been 20 years in Europe and the dream has finally come true!

Elsewhere it was just misery for the Aussies, with O’Connor now 67th overall, 4:34 behind Van Aert, who is 13 seconds ahead of American Neilson Powless, 14 seconds behind Boasson Hagen and 19 behind Pogačar, which already seems to be off to a good start. to score his hat-trick.

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