Things didn’t go quite as Leigh Howard (HTC-Highroad) would’ve liked in the Amgen Tour of California. Separate incidents on stages two and three, as well as Milan-San Remo winner Matthew Goss being dropped on stage five meant the team had to wait until the final stage to get the win they so desired. Not that Howard was complaining, but the Australian had envisaged things going slightly differently.
"It would’ve been nice to win two or three stages; I think we were definitely capable of doing that," he explained to Cyclingnews.
"The first stage where Gossy got third, it was just one tiny mistake that cost him the win."
A miscommunication in the lead-out meant Howard and Goss headed in different directions as the sprint unfolded. Howard opened up and went to the left of the road as Goss went to the right.
"I think he thought that I was peeling off when I wasn’t. I was going past the Sky train. Goss didn’t know that though and he stayed in the train and then couldn’t get going again," said Howard of that first sprint. A missed opportunity perhaps but the Australian was more frustrated with stage three.
A crash in the closing kilometers involving then race leader Ben Swift (though he managed to stay up), Michael Matthews (Rabobank), and Matthew Goss left Howard stranded. He ended up managing to salvage a creditable fifth on the day but described the crash as one of the worst days of the Tour for the team.
"Goss and I were feeling really good that day. It was just unfortunate that from what I understand Michael Matthews caused the crash. We were well set up for the lead out, but when [Matthew Goss] crashed I was too far back to sprint for myself," Howard said.
On the fifth stage, a roaring pace up the final two climbs was too much for Goss, who was dropped, and that meant Howard had his own chance to go for the win.
"Because Freire was away late in the stage we had to go really hard up one of the climbs and [Goss] was dropped. For me it was my chance to prove that I was good enough, and I did a good sprint – but just got edged on the line by a couple of millimeters," he said of the stage where Peter Sagan took the win.
Stages six and seven gave Howard and Goss some time to rethink their plans for the last day, and fortunately it did finally come together. Goss took the win after a textbook lead-out from Howard.
"Thankfully we were able to get the job done [in Thousand Oaks]," he said. "As I've said before - If [Goss and I] come to the line together it’s pretty hard for anyone to beat us. It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t get it together before then."
Howard’s next race will be the Philadelphia International Grand Prix where he will lead the HTC-Highroad team against some of the USA's top cyclists.