Leigh Howard Moves Into Tour of Oman Race Lead

Wed 19 Feb 2014

Leigh Howard traded the white best young rider jersey for the red leader’s jersey on Wednesday following stage two of the Tour of Oman. Second on the first stage to André Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and on the second stage to Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Howard snagged enough bonus seconds to move into the overall lead. Howard enjoys a 2” cushion over Kristoff, Greipel and Preben van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) heading into stage three and leads three of the four classifications (overall, young rider, points).

The race began with the customary early escape. Van Hecke, Paolo Colonna (Bardiani CSF) and Aldo Ino Ilesic (Unitedhealthcare) slipped up the road as soon as the official start had been given. Sébastian Hinault (IAM Cycling) attempted to bridge across to the trio but found himself stuck in no man’s land for nearly an hour before rejoining the peloton.

With Greipel in the red jersey following the opening stage, Lotto Belisol assumed responsibility for the chase. The peloton overtook the breakaway inside the final ten kilometres as the sprint trains began to take shape.

Although Howard enjoyed full support from his teammates in the build-up to the sprint, he lost his lead-out in the hectic final kilometre. Howard started his sprint from a less than ideal position and managed to overtake all but Kristoff in the run in towards the line. In the Q&A below, Howard gives insight into the sprint and all the rest of the stage two action.

Q: Talk us through the early action. How did stage two begin from a team perspective?

It was a sad start to the day. We woke the news of Kristof Goddaert’s tragic death in Europe yesterday. Before the stage, there was a one minute moment of silent. The mood was very sombre, and the whole peloton was pretty quiet at the beginning of the stage. 

Q: The early break went quickly again. What happened after that?

Basically, three guys rode off the front to form the break today. The peloton was happy to let them go. Within the first 40 minutes or so, the gap had grown quite big. I think a lot of people in the bunch started to panic. We had a tailwind, which would make the chase a bit harder than usual. The speed picked up significantly, and the pace was really on for a lot of the stage after that.

Despite the increase in the pace, the breakaway still had seven minutes at 70 kilometres, which was just under the mid-point of the stage. Lotto Belisol did the bulk of the chase work again. Tinkoff-Saxo put a guy or two on the front. Quick-Step helped out, too.

Although I finished second yesterday and had ambitions today, we didn’t really help with the chase.  We’re sort of in a funny position as our team is split. We have a few riders here who are meant to help in the sprints, but we also have guys like Cam Meyer and Ivan Santaromita who are looking to do something on the general classification.

Q: You gave a really good explanation of the build-up to the sprint yesterday. Can you go into those sort of details again today?

Sure - twenty kilometres from the finish there were a few rolling hills. They were only a couple kilometres long each. The peloton stayed together over the hills. The whole team rode together in this section, and I had guys looking after me the entire time. Even Ivan, who has his own ambitions, was happy to help. It shows that the whole team is dedicated to each other.

With about five kilometres to go, we hit a pretty stiff crosswinds section. The peloton split up there. I had Daryl Impey and Jens Keukeleire looking after me. A few sprinters missed the split, but I think nearly everybody got back on because it was a headwind to the finish.

Coming into about two-and-half kilometres, there was a round-about, and out of the round-about, we faced a stiff headwind. I was around Jens Keukeleire, Jens Mouris and Daryl through this section. We tried to be patient and not hit the front any sooner than necessary because we didn’t want to get swamped. Eventually, there came a point that we had to commit, and Jens Mouris got on the front two kilometres from the finish.

Q: How did the sprint unfold from there?

With the headwind we had, even with Jens going full gas on the front, we were only doing about 50-55 kilometres/hour. Jens is a big, powerful guy, so that says a lot. He was able to pull from two kilometres to 1.2 kilometres.

Heppy [Michael Hepburn] came up to us last minute, and he was a bit of a saviour in the end. When Jens dropped off, Heppy took a turn for about 500 metres. When Heppy came off the front, I still had Daryl and Jens Keukeleire for the last kilometre.

We really tried to wait and not go too early, but we got a little swamped as we were waiting. I ending up having to find my own wheel in the sprint, and I got caught back further than I would have preferred. I opened my sprint from behind a number of riders.

Luckily, I had good speed, and I was able to come past nearly everyone in front of me. If the sprint had been 15 metres longer, I think I could have gotten it. Two second places, and now I have the leader’s jersey as a consolation prize for missing out on the wins.

Q: Does the team plan to defend the jersey tomorrow?

Of course. It’s always nice to have the jersey, and if there’s a chance to keep it, you never want to give it up. Tomorrow’s stage is more suited to a guy like Daryl Impey or Michael Albasini or even Jens Keukeleire rather than a guy like me, but I’ll try my hardest tomorrow to see if I can hold onto it  - as long as they fits with the team’s goals.