Leigh Howard continued his show of strengths in the Tour of Britain sprints. Wearing the gold leader’s jersey as he crossed the line in third place on stage four, Howard was one of only 20 riders to survive a Sky Procycling induced split in the final hour of racing.
A six-rider break dominated the wet, windy stage. ORICA-GreenEDGE sent Jack Bobridge and Michael Hepburn to the front of the bunch to control the chase. The escape group gained a maximum advantage of nearly seven minutes before the gap began to close.
“It was an interesting stage to say the least,” said Howard. “It was wet and raining throughout the entire stage with a lot of water on the road. The break went straight away. Heppy and Jack controlled, and Sky lent some help to bring back the move.”
With the peloton closing in on the break, the group of six was reduced to four riders with 40 kilometers left to race. Inside the final 20 kilometers, only two of the original six riders remained out front. As the break splintered, Sky took advantage of high winds on the flat run towards the finish.
“Twenty-five kilometers from the line, Sky put the race into the gutter and split the bunch into four distinct pieces,” explained Howard. “We have only five guys, compared to most teams with six, and we used up Jack and Heppy on the chase. Aidis [Kruopis] is sick, and he fought just to make it to the finish. Brett [Lancaster] had an asthma issue before the start. He was clearly struggling, but his experience allowed him to make the front group with me.”
Lancaster moved Howard to the head of the front group as those who made the selection overtook the remnants of the break.
“Lancaster put me on the right wheel at five kilometers to go,” said Howard. “From there, I took care of the sprint. I was beat by a better bike race today in Cavendish.”
Howard and Cavendish started the stage tied on time. Bonus seconds at the finish moved Cavendish into the lead. Howard now sits in second overall, six seconds back on the Manxman.
“I would have loved to have kept the jersey, but there are still four days of racing left,” said Howard. “It’s better in the long run not have defend when we’re dealing with illness and down one rider.”
Before the stage start in Carlisle, the team had the opportunity to meet with 14 children from Shankhill School. The children’s class had studied the team in the weeks leading up to the race – learning about various riders, team sponsors and Australia.
“We met all the kids and their teachers before the race,” said Howard. “It’s good to see the kids taking such an interest in the sport and a school that see that value in introducing more kids to sport in general. The kids we met today could be the future of cycling. You never know what moment will inspire someone.”