Leigh Howard sprinted to victory in Knowsley on the second stage of the Tour of Britain. Outkicking Mark Cavendish (Sky) and Boy Van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare), Howard secured his first win of the season and the 30th victory for ORICA-GreenEDGE in its maiden season.
“I need to say a big thank you to my team, especially Aidis Kruopis,” said Howard. “I’ve done a few leads outs, and I know it can be a bit disappointing when your hard work doesn’t result in a win from your sprinter. I’m happy to be able to repay the team back for the work they did for me today.”
Jack Bobridge animated the early action, covering an attack and inspiring the formation of a six-rider breakaway. Team Sky controlled the chase and began to pull back the escape after they gained a maximum advantage of 4:10. The peloton swept up the break inside the final 25 kilometers. Bobridge earned the most aggressive rider prize for his efforts.
“Jack did a good job to go into the break,” noted Sports Director Lionel Marie. “In our briefing this morning, I told him to take it easy today and only try something if it felt right. He covered a big group and ended up going up the road to create the breakaway today. He has been away from road racing for four months, so this is especially impressive.”
While Team Sky did the bulk of the pace-making as the peloton surged towards the finish, Kruopis looked after Howard. Three kilometers from the finish, Kruopis brought Howard towards the front of the field.
“It was really nice not to have to think too much with Aidis looking after me,” said Howard. “As a sprinter, he knows where we want to be. I trusted him and followed his wheel during the last 20 kilometers. He had done so much work for so long that he ran out of legs 1.5 kilometers from the line. That’s when I jumped on Cav’s wheel.”
Howard came around Cavendish to open the sprint.
“I had to fight hard to get Cav’s wheel, but I did get it,” Howard explained. “I went through the last few corners on his wheel. They were tight turns, so it was single-file coming out of the last corner onto the home stretch.”
“I started my sprint at 250 meters,” Howard continued. “It’s a long sprint, but I’ve learned that I’ve got a bit more length in my sprint from the leads out I’ve done throughout the season.”
Having put himself out front, Howard remained ahead of the other sprinters all the way to the line.
“I feel a huge sense of relief,” admitted Howard. “It’s been a long season looking for a win. I’ve tried time and time again. I knew I had made a step forward in terms of my strength this year, and it’s taken this long to finally see the results.”