Leigh Howard Sprints to Sixth in First Tour of Poland Bunch Kick

Tue 30 Jul 2013

Leigh Howard sprinted to sixth in Rzeszów as Pieter Weening protected his position on the overall classification after the third stage of Tour de Pologne The peloton returned to action in Poland after a weekend of mountainous racing in Italy followed by a race day on Monday.

The early breakaway put in a strong effort to steal stage glory from the sprinters. Alexandr Dyachenko (Astana), Ricardo Mestre (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Bartlomiej Matysiak (CCC Polsat Polkowice). The quartet gained more than ten minutes by the mid-point of the stage. ORICA-GreenEDGE sent Jens Mouris to the head of the bunch to contribute to the chase efforts.

“The break was really strong today,” said Howard. “We had Jens Mouris working on the front. It was good of him to take up the chase since he’s been sick for the last three days. His work was really appreciated.”

The gap shrunk slowly with the escape group holding off the field until the last of three finishing circuit laps.

“We started off with only two guys pulling – Jens and a rider from Argos-Shimano,” explained Howard. “After that, BMC, Sky and Ag2r began to help, too. Even with four or five teams pulling, the gap didn’t come down super fast. The break deserved to be out there for as long as they were with the way they rode.”

As the peloton reeled in the breakaway, the pace rose. Teams began to fight for prime position in the final lap.

“It was mayhem during those last laps,” said Howard. “It was a really nasty little circuit. If you weren’t in the top 20-30 people, you were part of the rubber band effect. Even at the front, it was pretty crazy. There was lots of pushing and shoving, which I guess is to be expected in a circuit like this.”

As the Belkin and BMC trains took shape, Howard found himself struggling to hold his position through the tight turns. Thor Hushovd (BMC) bested Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp) and Mark Renshaw (Belkin) for the stage victory. Howard made up ground to cross the line in sixth place.

“I got caught back a little too far on the second to last and last corner underneath the 1km to go banner,” admitted Howard. “Basically, I started my sprint from too far back. I’m a little disappointed as I expected to go better, but I’m trying to remind myself that’s it’s not too bad of a result for my first sprint in almost three months.”

“My legs felt quite good,” Howard added. “They’re getting better and better each day, so that’s a good sign. It’s just a matter of getting the race head back and remembering how everything happens in the sprint. It will get easier as I get back into the rhythm of positioning in these types of finishes.”

Weening finished safely in the bunch alongside the other overall contenders to maintain his hold on fourth place, 7” behind race leader Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff). The Pole has a 4” advantage over Sergio Henao (Sky) in second and 6” over Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale) in third.