Leigh Howard regained the gold leader’s jersey at the Tour of Britain following the fifth stage of racing. Having ceded the jersey to Mark Cavendish (Sky Procycling) by six seconds yesterday, Howard survived numerous splits in the bunch to make it to the finish with a group of 15 riders. Below he describes another difficult day in the saddle.
The race got off to a fast start. Despite a lot of attacking, the peloton was still together when we hit the first hot sprint. I thought I got second in the sprint, which would have been good for two seconds, but found at the finish I had actually won the sprint and banked three bonus seconds. I was in a good position to sprint as we approached the line, and I just went for it on my own. It wasn’t an aim at the start of the day to collect bonus seconds, but I thought why not.
Shortly after the sprint, Brett Lancaster went down. We were on a big, wide road and the bunch swerved from left to right. There was an overlap of wheels between riders in front of Brett. They went down, and their crash took him down, too. He cut open his leg just below the knee pretty badly. He withdrew from the race and went to hospital where he received 11 stitches.
Shortly after Brett’s crash, a three-rider break went away. Sky and Endura controlled the pace for awhile. After we hit the first series of hills, the same two teams put the race in gutter with around 50 kilometers remaining in the race. The way they were riding made the race quite hard for about 10-15 minutes. We went over more climbs, and then I attacked with Nathan Haas (Garmin – Sharp).
When Nathan and I attacked, the break was still away and another two riders were between the bunch and the break. We rounded up the first two but didn’t see the break. Our small group of four lasted until we hit the Gun Hill, the last categorized climb of today’s stage. It was nice to be off the front when what was left of the peloton had caught us. We only had to slot back into the group and hang on for the remainder of the climb.
I was quite pleased with my legs today. I did get tailed off the field over the first categorized climb and ended up in the second group on the road. The two groups merged on the descent, and when we went up the next climb, I was able to stay with the pack. I probably went over the top tenth wheel or so. With such a hard stage, I just lacked the legs to really go for it in the sprint.
Eventually, the front group reeled in the break, and counter-attacks flew. Marc De Maar (Unitedheatlhcare) launched one of the last attacks and managed to hold us off to take the win. Sep Vanmarckee (Garmin-Sharp) lead my group across the line to take second ahead of Boy Van Poppel (Unitedhealthcare). Although I missed out on time bonuses at the finish, I’m back in the race lead by seven seconds over Van Poppel. Cav didn’t make the front group, so he’s no longer in contention for the overall.
Losing Brett is a big blow to the team. We started the race one man down, and now we’re two men down. Jack [Bobridge] and Heppy [Michael Hepburn] aren’t 100% at the moment. They’ve struggled to jump back into road racing after spending so much time on the track. Having said that, they definitely showed the other day that when we really need them, they can ride strong on the front for awhile. It’s a hard ask to expect to keep the jersey through stage six with only four riders and two category one climbs in the last 12 kilometers, but we'll give it our best.
Regardless of how things play out tomorrow, I consider this race a great experience. During the last three or four races before this one, I’ve done the best I can to lead out Aidis Kruopis. We’ve worked well together to deliver him to numerous wins. I’ve spent my energy working on my lead out, and I haven’t had many opportunities to sprint for myself. Here in Britain, I was given the green light by the directors and Aidis to have a go. I’m doing the best I can to repay their faith in me.