Press Release: Geelong’s Leigh Howard has continued his winning form with a sprint victory in the first stage of the U23 International Thuringen Tour in Germany.
The 19 year old Team AIS rider finished the 167km stage loop out and back from Erfurt in a time of 3hr57min42sec. Howard launched a blistering sprint 70 metres out from the line to win by a convincing margin over Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) with Austrian Stefan Denifl third at one second. The peloton crossed more that two minutes later.
"This year I’m coming in to the race in good form," said Howard who last month won three stages and the points classification in the Tour of Japan. "It was good to win on the first day and to take the sprint jersey which is my aim for the Tour."
After a very aggressive start Howard vied for the first intermediate sprint at 55km and placed second. Soon after a break of nine riders, including Howard, escaped the bunch. The break forged a lead of six minutes by the 110km mark and Howard nabbed the points for the second intermediate sprint at 112km.
"Then the situation in front changed as the lead group lost cohesion and the peloton began to make up time on the break," said Team Manager, Dave McPartland. "About 35km from home Leigh made his move and was immediately followed by Kruijswijk and Denifl."
The trio worked well to stay away and when the race hit the line for the first of three eight kilometre circuits in Erfurt Howard claimed the third and final intermediate sprint.
"On the tough, hilly finishing circuit Leigh rode really strongly to stay at the front every lap and the leaders came into the final kilometre with a gap of around two-and-a-half minutes," said McPartland.
Howard’s team mate Jack Bobridge, 19, finished with what was left of the main group. Rohan Dennis had been with Bobridge but was dropped on the last lap of the finishing circuit and rode home 3min49sec after Howard.
Howard’s win saw him presented with the leader’s yellow jersey as well as the sprint, points and best young rider jerseys.
Howard goes into the 164km second stage at Oberhof tied on time with Kruijswijk with Denifl sitting one second off the pace in third overall. Howard has a five point lead over Kruijswijk in the points classificiation, sits on eight points, five clear of German rider Marcel Kittel in the sprint standings and has a 2min34sec buffer in the best young rider classification.
The seven stage Thuringen Tour runs though to 13 June.
Source: Cycling Australia