Australian Clarke cruelly denied Giro stage win chance
Australian Simon Clarke and fellow escapee Alessandro De Marchi were cruelly denied a shot at their first Giro d'Italia stage win within about 250m of the finish.
Their breakaway just failed to decide stage six, with Mads Pedersen winning in a sprint finish as Clarke and De Marchi were left lamenting their near-miss.
With 25km left, Clarke (Israel-Premier Tech) and De Marchi, who rides for the Australian Jayco-AlUla team, still led the peloton by more than two minutes.
It looked like the sprinters' teams had miscalculated the catch, but Thursday's 162km stage that started and finished in Naples went a few metres too far for the two 36-year-olds, who were teammates last year at Israel-Premier Tech.
Clarke said the way the stage ended was "devastating".
"It's not nice to lose in that way ... I'd probably prefer to be caught with 10km to go rather than 200m. You can't win them all, but if you don't try then you never know. Tomorrow's another day," the Australian said.
"Look, at the end of the day, there's always going to be a moment where you have to decide to stop pulling. You can't pull all the way until 10m to go. We needed 10-15 more seconds. It was just the way it was."
Clarke's most recent win was a popular success last July at stage five in the Tour de France.
He is better-known as one of the peloton's top road captains and domestiques.
Rather than decide the stage, Clarke and De Marchi had to settle for 88th and 89th, at the very back of the peloton.
While the dry weather was a welcome respite from the sodden conditions that dogged stage five, there were still plenty of mechanicals and crashes.
Ineos Grenadiers' Geraint Thomas suffered a mechanical problem to drop back while Jumbo–Visma's Primoz Roglic, another pre-race favourite, needed to replace his bike after a puncture.
Mark Cavendish (Astana), who was nursing bruises after a crash on the line in Wednesday's sprint finish, hit the deck yet again early on during a descent when he was hit by a gust of wind but the 37-year-old veteran managed to finish the stage.
Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) held off Jonathan Milan (Bahrain-Victorious), Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates), Australia's stage-five winner Kaden Groves (Alpecin Deceuninck) and Fernando Gaviria (Movistar) to take victory.
"I'm pretty happy, it's what we came for. It's nice to have a victory now, it was a tough day for the team and it's nice to pay them back with a victory," Pedersen said.
"It was pretty close, it was not easy to catch them (Clarke and De Marchi) for a long time. They had a lead of two minutes and we had to use all the guys available, it wasn't easy.
"With 300m to go we caught them. I feel really sorry for those guys."
Andreas Leknessund of Team DSM retained the leader's maglia rosa jersey with a 28-second lead over pre-race favourite Remco Evenepoel of Soudal Quick-Step.