The expected Esteban Chaves and Chris Froome Falls Creek showdown didn't quite eventuate on stage 1 of the Herald Sun Tour as their key domestiques Damien Howson and Kenny Elissonde instead animated the front of the race. Chaves and Froome tested each other several times on the 29km climb but arrived at the finish line together with the Orica-Scott rider stealing a second via a late surge for the line. The Colombian is now ninth overall, three seconds behind fifth placed Froome.
Having witnessed and benefitted from Howson burying himself in assistance of his podium results at last year's Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana, Chaves was quick to congratulate an exhausted Howson after crossing the line 1:10 minute later with all thoughts on his teammate's success than his fifth place.
"Today he showed a really good performance. It is unbelievable, I am really happy for him," the ever-smiling Chaves told Cyclingnews on the finish line. "He sacrifice all the time for the team, not just for me, for the team. For the sprinters, for the climbers… and this guy deserve this. It is beautiful that he experience victory in Melbourne. It is really awesome, I am really happy and more happy than when I win. This guy deserves it and we try to win the race with this guy for sure."
Howson has consistently proven his value as a domestique for the team, whether that be in the high mountains for Chaves or riding on the front of the peloton at the Tour Down Under to set up the sprints for Caleb Ewan like he did last month. So when Howson went up the road, there was a suggestion he would be a bridge for a Chaves attack in the same way Elissonde, who made the move with Howson, would be for Froome. And not a bona fide threat for the stage and GC double.
Chaves though knows Howson's qualities better then most in the peloton, explaining "we have confidence in him. He is a really good bike rider and he showed that today," he added.
Having finished second to Richie Porte (BMC) at the Tour Down Under last month, a second Australian podium of the summer looks unlikely for Chaves but post-stage, the 27-year-old wasn't thinking about his personal result or placing.
"The Australian guys are really good. They arrive mostly in the first 20 riders so they show really good performance. Froomey and me attack each in like the last three, four kilometres but we arrive together. The point we speak about today is Damo," he said before the celebrations started all over again as more Orica-Scott teammates crossed the line.