Leigh Howard sprinted to victory at Trofeo Migjorn on the second day of the Challenge Majorca. Having reviewed the race finish ahead of today’s start, the team committed and perfectly executed a plan to put Howard up for the win.
“Neil Stephens, Julian Dean, Marc Quod and I looked at the finish this morning in the car,” said Howard. “We knew it would be a crazy, hectic and potentially dangerous sprint. I’m glad we had the preview. It allowed us to formulate a plan that we stuck to almost to a T. I come out on top because everyone did their jobs. The team has given me a great opportunity here and put a lot of faith in me. It’s nice to repay them.”
Christian Meier animated the early action. He jumped into a six-rider move that developed in the opening kilometres. The breakaway gained a maximum advantage of 7:10 in the opening hour of the race.
“Christian rode hard in the break throughout the day,” noted Sport Director Neil Stephens. “It took the pressure off us. It wasn’t critical that we have a rider in the move because we wanted a bunch sprint, but we were able to point to Christian up the road to explain why we weren’t contributing to the chase.”
Garmin-Sharp, Lotto-Belisol and Team Sky took control of the tempo and slowly reeled back Meier’s move. As the gap tumbled, Stephens directed the team to hit the front.
“We wanted to make the race hard and come to the finish with a small field to reduce the danger in the sprint,” explained Stephens. “If we came to the line with 150 guys fighting for wheels, it would have been really dangerous. Our goal was to have only 30 or 40 riders contesting the sprint.”
“When it was obvious the break was going to get caught, I asked the guys to chase,” Stephens continued. “The boys questioned this call, which was respectful of them on Christian’s behalf. I explained that it was inevitable that the break would get caught, and then they were happy to do as they were asked. We got to the front to put the race in gutter in an attempt to soften up the bunch before we really put the hammer down.”
Meier earned the most aggressive jersey for his efforts in the break.
“Most aggressive means podium, flowers and maybe a mention in the newspaper,” said Stephens. “It’s a minor prize, but it’s always good to stand on the podium and represent the team that way.”
The race was back together 27 kilometres from the finish when Stuart O’Grady, Michael Albasini and Sebastian Langeveld began to set a punishing tempo at the head of the field.
“Stuey, Albasini and Sebastian made it really hard coming into the final kilometres,” said Stephens. “They were able to drop Mitch [Docker] and Leigh in a good position for the sprint, and Mitch took over from there.”
Having previewed the finish, Howard knew exactly where he needed to be in the last two kilometres.
“We wanted to be right at the front with two kilometres to go,” Howard explained. “There were some really nasty corners, and we needed to be at the front when we went around them. Mitch and I were fifth and sixth wheel when we hit these corners. It was perfect.”
“Then, there were two tight corners with 300 metres to go,” he continued. “I came out third wheel behind Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp).”
Howard came around Farrar in the finishing straight to take the win. Farrar finished second and José Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) rounded out the podium.
“It’s great to repay the team for the faith they have put in me for the last two races – especially Mitch,” said Howard. “We’re working really well together. Like I said during San Luis, we’re still getting used to each other. Three sprints in, and we’ve already won a race. It’s fantastic. He’s done such an awesome job. The whole team has. Hopefully there’s more of this to come.”
Stephens echoed Howard’s lavish praise.
“I’m really happy today because we got the win and everyone did what they had to do to achieve the result,” Stephens said. “Yesterday, I was happy with the effort, but we had a plan that we couldn’t execute. Today, we did things correctly. We got it right. When you do it right, it’s a lot easier to repeat that to get the win again.”