Having come close to a debut IAM Cycling victory during the Australian summer of cycling, his second place at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race visibly frustrating, Leigh Howard has claimed his first win for the Swiss team since moving across from Orica-GreenEdge in the off-season. Despite some uncertainty of just how much of the Classics de Almeria was to be neutralised due to strong winds on the Spanish coastline, Howard won the shortened race in a photo finish from Katusha's Alexey Tsatevich.
"We planned to ride for Matteo Pelucchi," Howard said of the team's initial plans for the 1.1 race. "After all, he had already won here in 2011. But the day was very strange. Our plans had to change completely. The wind gusts were very impressive. Neutralizing the race proved to be a wise decision. In the final circuit, the wind was a constant. It kept changing directions, and it was very dangerous.
"It reminded me of the criteriums I raced when I was a younger rider in Australia," he added. "I am lucky to have had such a strong team around me. All I had to do was produce my main effort 150 meters from the line. Personally, I was in ideal condition."
The victory was IAM Cycling's fourth of the season but Howard's first since the 2013 Trofeo Alcúdia-Can Picafort-Playa de Muro. The 26-year-old has now won seven professional races, three of those on Spanish soil having also tasted victory at the Trofeo Migjorn in 2013.
There was further cause for celebration as Howard's leadout man Aleksejs Saramotins carried his speed to the line to finish in third place having caused a split at the front of the race as he explained.
"We stayed perfectly grouped up to the final 500 meters," Saramotins said. "I lead Leigh Howard until about 150 meters from the finish. And he finished off the work in the most beautiful way. I simply played my role, and I am completely satisfied with third place. I was surprised no one followed us. The explanation is likely due to our good form, but also luck certainly had a hand. In any case, these are two excellent results for the team."
Directeur sportif Mario Chiesa explained there was hesitation from riders in the peloton as to whether the race should go ahead. However, with two cards to play in a sprint finish with Howard and Pelucchi, Chiesa added he was keen for his riders to race.
"Many riders did not want to head out for the race today," Chiesa said. "And who could blame them since the wind made it all very dangerous. We saw the effects as we were following them. After 35 kilometers, the peloton stopped because the weather just was not going to allow them to race more.
"The organization then decided to restart the race, but with just six laps of 3.5 kilometers each. We knew that between Pelucchi and Howard, we would have a very good chance to score a result. Being able to change tactics is also a strength of IAM Cycling's"
IAM Cycling's next two races start on February 17, with the Swiss WorldTour team lining up at the Ruta del Sol and Volta ao Algarve.