Press Release: Geelong teenager Leigh Howard has claimed a second stage win in the Tour of Japan outsprinting his rivals to secure victory in the 160.7km third stage in Mino, north of Nagoya.
The 19 year old Team AIS rider adds today’s result to his win in stage one while his team mates Michael Matthews and Travis Meyer both finished in the bunch to maintain their rankings of fourth and fifth respectively on the overall classification, both 22 seconds off the leader’s time.
"It was an Interesting stage because there were two groups of two off the front and they got out to about six or seven minutes but then there was a big crash and they neutralised the race," explained Howard. "When the crash happened the guys off the front only had a minute’s lead so after the restart we got them back."
The stage included seven laps of a 21 kilometre circuit.
"Each lap had a two kilometre climb and I was going pretty well today and got over it okay," said Howard who went over the climb for the final time in around 30th position. "A few small gaps had opened up but the boys really helped me out and Jack (Bobridge) got me up to the lead and then he sat on the front keeping the pace up for about five kilometres."
"It was a one kilometre straight run into the finish and I timed it right to win the sprint."
Howard’s win moves him back into the lead of the points jersey competition with 40 points, six clear of Kazakhstan’s Valentin Iglinskiy who sits on 34 points. Iglinskiy was second on today’s stage with Japan’s Taiji Nishitani third.
"I’m really going for the sprint jersey but realistically the next stage that will suit me for the sprint is probably the final stage circuit in Tokyo," said Howard who won the omnium and claimed the silver medal in the team pursuit at the Track Cycling World Championships in March. "The job until then is to look after the boys (Matthews and Meyer) and stay out of trouble."
Hong Kong cyclist Kam Po Wong has held onto the overall lead he snatched, in somewhat controversial circumstances, when he won Monday’s stage.
"Kam Po was involved in a crash on the first day so when he went away on yesterday’s stage no-one was too concerned because he was sitting more than three minutes down on the overall," explained Team Director, Brian Stephens. "Then when we got to the finish we found out they were amending the results to give him bunch time on stage one so he took over the race lead."
Wong is six seconds clear of Iglinkiy with another Kazakh rider, Dmitriy Gruzdev third at 14 seconds. Matthews and Meyer are 22 seconds off the lead.
"It would have been handy to know at the time," said Stephens wryly. "But apart from that hiccup the team is riding really well and tomorrow’s stage should suit both Michael and Travis."
Stage four will send the race on a 148km route made up of 12 laps of a circuit in and around Minami Shinsu and a 1.6km finishing circuit.
"It’s a tough little course with pretty solid climbs and I expect the boys will do well," said Stephens. Team graduate, Simon Clarke, won the stage last year while another of Stephen’s previous charges, Cameron Meyer won the Tour overall. Meyer is now racing with the ProTour Garmin-Slipstream team while Clarke is contracted to the Amica Chips-Knauf team.
Stephens doesn’t expect tomorrow’s stage to impact too much on the general classification contenders and believes the stage five individual time trial will be where the race is won and lost.
"Thursday is a rest day and Friday’s stage is a really, really hard time trial up Mount Fuji," said Stephens. "It’s a ten percent gradient and uphill all the way for 11.4 kilometres."
Matthews and Meyer both have solid time trial credentials with Matthews second in the Oceania Championships and third in the U23 time trial at the Australian Open Road Championships. Meyer was the silver medallist at the Australian Championships.
Source: Cycling Australia