Leigh Howard Sprints to Eighth on First Road Stage of Paris-Nice

Tue 5 Mar 2013

Leigh Howard sprinted to a top ten finish in Paris-Nice on the first road stage of the eight day tour. Having predicted a field sprint, ORICA-GreenEDGE fully committed to delivering Howard safely to the line. 

“It’s difficult to be happy with the result after seeing that the team followed the plan 100 percent,” said Sport Director Laurenzo Lapage. “The work and the lead out were perfect. I'm very happy with the effort."

As the flag dropped, Romain Sicard (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Bertjan Lindeman (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Yannick Talabardon (Sojasun) jumped ahead of the peloton. Happy to allow the trio to dominate the early action, the peloton, led by Europcar, picked up the pace only when the break’s advantage approached seven minutes.

“We took the risk today not to go into the early break,” noted Lapage. “I wanted the numbers at the end for the strong train. We were very confident we would see a bunch sprint in the end.”

Narrow roads and high nerves combined to cause several crashes in the final hour of racing. ORICA-GreenEDGE managed to avoid the mayhem.

“We had luck and nobody from the team was involved in any crash,” said Lapage. “We all stayed in good position.”

Proper positioning proved even more beneficial in the final 20 kilometres. Shortly after the bunch overtook the break, the peloton split.  Two-thirds of the field made the front group. Approximately 60 riders missed the decisive selection.

“We had everyone in the front group,” said Lapage. “[Simon] Gerrans and [Simon] Clarke brought the boys in the position towards the end of the race."

Six kilometres from the finish, Gerrans and Clarke navigated the team to the front of the peloton. In the final three kilometres, the ORICA-GreenEDGE sprint train ramped up the speed.

“We had [Michael] Albasini take the first turn,” noted Lapage. “From there it was [Fumy] Beppu, [Baden] Cooke, [Michael] Matthews and [Jens] Keukeleire. Matthews came off the front after the flamme rouge. Keukeleire did the last bit of work. This was exactly as we had discussed this morning.”

Despite a plan perfectly executed, Howard found himself swarmed in the sprint.

“Shortly after Jens pulled off, Leigh was overtaken on both sides,” Lapage explained. “After the race, Leigh also told us that he incorrectly remembered the finish. He thought there was one more corner with 300 metres to go.”

Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) won the sprint to move into the yellow race leader's jersey. ORICA-GreenEDGE will have another chance tomorrow. Stage two looks set to be a day for the sprinters.

“Stage two will be more or less the same as stage one,” projected Lapage. “It will be another nervous day with concentration required throughout the entire stage. The area we race through is truly open and the wind can appear out of nowhere. The boys will be there again tomorrow, and hopefully they will be rewarded.”