Leigh Howard (Orica GreenEdge) leads the young rider classification after stage 1 in Oman
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Young Australia shows his form four years after his first ever professional win
Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEdge) took his first ever professional victory at the 2010 Tour of Oman and showed his 2014 sprinting form with an impressive second place behind Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) in Naseem Garden.
Howard beat Daniele Bennati, Tom Boonen and Tyler Farrar back in 2010 and got the better of Boonen and Bennati again four years later.
"I'm pretty happy with that because it's my first sprint of the season," Howard told Cyclingnews before heading to the podium to collect the best young rider's white jersey.
"I did the Tour of Qatar but it was my first race of the season and we did the majority of the work for Aidis Kruopis, because he was going really well. Now I'm the only sprinter here, the boys looked after me all day and did a good job keeping me up in the finale."
Howard was looking forward to seeing his sprint on video, convinced he had the speed to take on and perhaps beat Greipel.
"I did everything I could but it's always hard when you're trying to take on André," he conceded.
"Unfortunately I was third wheel, which is normally a good position. But this time I would have preferred to lay off him and take a run at it because I felt really good. I'm sure the video of the sprint will show that I was on a par with him on speed."
"I love this race"
This year's Tour of Oman includes two more stages that suit Howard's talents. His past as a world champion on the track in the Omnium and the Madison have given him the natural speed and bike handling skills need to be well placed in the sprints. He can also climb better than many of his sprinting rivals, allowing him to contest stage finishes that include hilly finale.
Wednesday's second stage from Al Bustan to Quriyat is expected to finish in a sprint thanks to the flat final 15 kilometres, and the final stage on the Muscat Corniche ends on a fast finishing circuit. Howard could also be in contention on stage three to Al Bustan. The finale includes the roller coaster roads of Al Jissah and Peter Sagan won a similar stage last year with a solo attack. The sprinters finished just 11 seconds behind him.
I just hope to have another go at Greipel tomorrow (Wednesday) and then see how the rest of the race goes," Howard said.
"I've got good memories from here. And if you're in a good mind space, you always race better. If you're not feeling great or don't want to be at a certain race, then you're never going to race as good. But I love this race because was my first ever pro victory happened here. It's great to come back again and do well in my first sprint."