Will Clarke and Jordan Kerby have kicked off Drapac Professional Cycling 2014 Tour of Japan in style claiming the top two placings in the prologue in Sakai.
Clarke was the fastest man around the challenging 2.65km circuit, winning in a time of 0:03:14.09 to repeat his 2012 victory, averaging a time of just over 49km/h. Two seconds off the pace, was Australian Under-23 individual time trial champion, Jordan Kerby. Lampre-Merida’s Filippo Pozzato rounded out the podium three-seconds in arrears of Kerby.
In a great result for the team, Drapac finished with five riders in the top-20 – the only squad to do so. Drapac lead the team classification by seven seconds from Avanti, with Lampre-Merida a further second back.
“It’s a great team performance first and foremost with some outstanding individual performances across the board,” said Drapac’s Director of Performance, Keith Flory. “We really couldn’t have asked anything else from all of the riders today.”
Twenty-nine-year old Clarke is enjoying a hot run of form, finishing runner-up on the second stage of the recent Tour d’Azerbaïdjan. Encouragingly, Clarke’s winning time on Sunday was nearly six seconds faster than his result in 2012.
“It’s great to win here in Sakai,” he said, adding that it being his father’s birthday was added motivation to race well.
“I had been looking forward to coming back to this stage for a while now and definitely focused on it,” Clarke continued. “I am a lot stronger now than I was when I won here two years ago.
“The key to a good result on this circuit is to go full gas and carry as much speed as you can through the corners.”
Kerby returned to racing earlier this month in Azerbaïdjan after recovering from a broken collarbone and said that today’s effort was confirmation that his hard work in rehabilitation had paid dividends.
“It feels good to get some results back on the board after having such a long time off racing,” the 21-year-old Queenslander explained. “It was also an awesome feeling to be on the podium with a teammate.
“For me, Azerbaïdjan was a lot about getting back in the swing of racing and bringing up the form. I recovered well from last week and was ready to race here in Japan.”
The result gives Kerby the lead in the Young Rider classification, with fellow Australians Jack Beckinsale and Brenton Jones from Avanti Racing trailing by two seconds.
Clarke will now wear the green leader’s jersey when the Tour of Japan continues on Tuesday with a 160.7km stage in Mino, which is likely to be decided by the sprinters.
“Overall it’s a great result for the team with the 1-2 alongside Kerby,” said Clarke.
“Today’s result puts us in a brilliant position going into stage 2, with the 1-2, leader’s jersey and the lead in the points classification,” continued Flory.
“Stage 2 is suited to Wouter Wippert, so we’ll see what we can do there.”
Results snapshot – Drapac Professional Cycling, Tour of Japan Prologue
1 Will Clarke (Aus) 0:03:14.09
2 Jordan Kerby (Aus) +0:00:02.92
11 Adam Phelan (Aus) +0:00:08.66
19 Wouter Wippert (Ned) +0:00:10.97
20 Lachlan Norris (Aus) +0:00:11.14
48 Jai Crawford (Aus) +0:00:16.90