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Back-to-Back Top Ten Finishes for Our Neo-Pros in Catalunya

Sat 29 Mar 2014

Volta a Catalunya has offered the ORICA-GreenEDGE neo-pros the opportunities to flex their WorldTour muscles, and the youngest members of our team have risen to the challenge. Adam Yates and Esteban Chaves tested their climbing legs in the Catalan mountains with Yates finishing an impressive 17th place on the first of two summit finishes earlier in the weeks. Damien Howson factored into the animated finale on stage five, setting Yates up for his first WorldTour top ten. Howson cracked the top ten the following day. Part of the early breakaway turned winning move, Howson finished eighth from the experienced group of nine.

“This week has been all about the process,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens. “The youngest riders in our group have had a lot of opportunities this week. They have our more experienced riders to thank for this. Sam [Bewley], Christian [Meier] and Leigh [Howard] have been a huge part of setting up Adam, Damien and Esteban for success.”

“I’m really happy with how things are going with this group,” Stephens added. “Obviously we’ve had our ups and downs. They’ve faced a lot of difficult days with harsh weather and tough terrain, and they’ve remained committed to the process throughout the week.”

STAGE FIVE: LLENARS – VALLS (218.2KM)

The longest stage of the race featured only one categorised climb, which came in the final 20 kilometres of the stage. The race started off at a fast clip. While his teammates conserved in the bunch, Meier attempted to get into the early escape.

“There were a lot of attacks at the start,” said Stephens. “Christian actually got up the road a few times, but those moves came back. He missed out on the one that went away, and we had no one involved in the breakaway.”

Cannondale and Lampre-Merida kept a watchful eye on the eight riders up ahead, bringing them back before the final climb. With the category two Lilla looming, Yates, Chaves and Howson moved the front of the bunch. When the attacks began, the trio remained attentive, with Howson finding himself off the front as he followed moves.

“There were several attacks on the climb, and Damien went away with one of them,” said Stephens. “It was great to see him up there and amongst the action.”

All attacks were neutralised. Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) won the stage ahead of Julian Alaphilippe (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) and Samuel Dumoulin (AG2R La Mondiale). Yates managed seventh in the sprint from a reduced bunch of just under 40 riders.

“It was a scrap fight to the line,” said Stephens. “Everybody wanted to get to the front. Adam was the only one from the team who actually got himself up there. He was positioned really well, but he opened up his sprint from the front and he went a little bit too early. The original idea was to have him up there for Leigh. He hadn’t planned to sprint for himself.”

“We won this stage with Simon Gerrans last year,” Stephens added. “It’s a transition type stage, and it’s not the sort of day that would normally suit Adam. He did a good job given the race circumstances.”

STAGE SIX: EL VENDRELL – VILANOVA I LA GELTRU (172KM)

Howson was amongst fantastic company in an escape group of nine that held off the peloton on the sixth stage of Volta a Catalunya. Joined up the road by Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing), Stef Clement (Belkin), Pieter Serry (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step), Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Antonio Piedra Perez (Caja Rural – Seguros RGA), Nico Sijmens (Wanty – Group Gobert), Rudy Molard (Cofidis) and Marek Rutkiewicz (CCC Polsat Polkowice), Howson held his own in an aggressive, animated finale before finishing in eighth place in Vilanova i la Geltru. 

“Damien did a great job today,” said Stephens. “The guys in the break were really good in this sort of situation. We didn’t tell him when to go or who to go with– we left that to him.”

“We told him to stay cool,” Stephens added. “That’s expecting a lot. Damien one of the youngest guys in the peloton in his first WorldTour race and now he’s in the break going for the win. The attacks are going one right after another – and we want him to keep his cool. He did a really great job.”

Howson’s presence in the break was part of the Australian’s outfit pre-race plan. Stephens had asked three riders to attempt to get up the road. Howson managed to find the right move.

“We planned to put any one of three riders in the break,” said Stephens. “Damien was the one to eventually do it.  It was a good opportunity for him, and it took the pressure off us to ride if was going to come back together for a bunch finish for Leigh.”

“The pace was on from the start today,” Stephens added. They averaged over 70 kilometres per hour during the first 15 kilometres. Given how fast it was, it’s really amazing that the guys could ride away from the bunch.”

While the group of nine never extended their advantage over the peloton beyond the five minute mark, the peloton lack an organized chase. Cooperation amongst the nine reigned supreme until the final ten kilometres. Rolland threw the first missive. His catch was immediately countered, and so it would continue all the way to the line.

Howson marked attacks until Clement threw the decisive punch inside the final two kilometres. With three seconds over the chasing eight at the flamme rouge, Clement soloed across the line. Molard was best of the rest, and Howson slotted into eighth place. Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto Belisol) led the peloton home nearly one minute later.

“Damien showed that he wasn’t willing to go down without a fight,” said Stephens. “We’re really quite proud of him.”

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