Howson takes fourth from the breakaway on stage 11 of La Vuelta

Wed 4 Sep 2019

Australian Damien Howson spent the day in the breakaway before sprinting to fourth place on stage 11 of La Vuelta a Espana.

In his seventh Grand Tour, the 27-year-old made it into the break of the day, but couldn’t quite reel in the solo winner before the line, eventually taking a top-five in Urdax-Dantxarinea.

Fight From the Flag

Predictably there was a scramble to get into the breakaway as soon as the flag dropped on the roll out of Saint Palais. Several moves came and went before Howson managed to infiltrate an 11-rider escape, with the bunch seemingly happy to let them go.

The group eventually grew to 14 riders with teams who had missed the initial move sending riders across. With the break of the day now formed and with no threatening riders on the general classification amongst them, the peloton knocked off the speed, allowing the gap to quickly grow out to seven minutes.

The advantage then grew to over eight minutes as the race passed over the first of the three categorised climbs on the day’s stage and it was starting to look like the day would swing in favour of the breakaway.

Cat and Mouse

The race then burst into life on the second and longest climb of the day as the breakaway began to attack each other, with mountains classification points up for grabs as well as a potential stage victory. Howson sat tight as several riders made moves and the Australian comfortably followed the accelerations over the top of the climb until two riders jumped away.

The duo opened up an advantage on the rest of the break before Howson bridged across the gap, taking a handful of riders with him. With a small regrouping at the head of the race, Howson upped the tempo and crested the final climb of the day, with just seven riders now leading.

With nobody willing to commit to the pace making, four riders bridged across and as they made contact Mikel Iturria (Euskadi Basque Country – Murias) went straight over the top. The Basque rider opened up a sizeable advantage as the remains of the break began to look at each other, but as they raced into town the lone leader was insight. Howson made a bid to get across to Iturria with three-kilometres to fo, but in the end it was too late as the local man took the win, with Howson taking fourth from the sprint behind.

Damien Howson:
"It was pretty even within the selection in the last 10-kilometres, every team only having one person represented, so it became quite a tactical affair. I knew I was feeling strong on the climbs and I could put most people under pressure in that area. I didn’t want to back myself in a sprint, but it was kind of tricky because there's obviously one guy still away and I don’t like racing for second, but I didn’t really have much of a choice in the end, I tried my best and fourth today is ok."

"Everyone's just desperate but they don’t want to play their card too early, they expect all the other riders to do the work and close the lone leader and then save themselves for the sprint, but every other rider is also thinking the same. So that’s where playing a bit of poker, but also taking a bit of a gamble at times normally pays off and that’s what I tried today, but unfortunately today it wasn’t for the win, but we’ll keep trying."

"My director told me of a corner with three-kilometres to go with a rise after it, so that’s when I timed my move and I went as hard as I could go. I brought one rider with me but he was pretty content on making me close the gap and at the end of the day I’d already given my main effort there and I had to concede to riding off the others."

Gene Bates (Sports Director):
"Damien was good today, probably one of the strongest in the breakaway. It was good he remained calm all day, we knew the final was going to be very difficult on narrow roads with some steep pinches, so we targeted those and he was good." 

"He attacked with 10-kilometres to go on the real steep ramp, ripped the group apart but couldn’t quite get across to the lone leader and then tried again at three-kilometres to go but it didn’t fall our way."

La Vuelta – Stage 11 Results:
1. Mikel Iturria (Euskadi Basque Country – Murias) 4:36:44
2. Jonathan Lastra (Caja Rural - Seguros RGA) +0:06
4. Damien Howson (Mitchelton-SCOTT) +0:06

La Vuelta – General Classification after Stage 11:
1.Primož Roglič (Team Jumbo-Visma) 41:00:08
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) +1:52
3. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) +2:11
12. Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-SCOTT) +8:52

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.