As Leigh Howard wiped his face clean after winning stage four of the Tour of Oman, he still couldn't believe what he'd done. The 20-year-old Australian is the current Omnium world track champion but had just beaten Daniele Bennati and Tom Boonen on the uphill finish in Nakhal.
"To beat guys like that in my second ever senior race and in my first race with the new team is a wonderful feeling," Howard said before heading to the podium.
"I'm over the moon. I've been sprinting for Bernie Eisel but today I spoke to him with 30km to go, when we'd got away, and told him I had the legs and he said 'okay',” added Howard. “He took me to about 500 metres to go and then I came off seventh or eighth wheel, so I think I sprinted really well."
Thanks to the stage winner's 10-second time bonus, Howard also moved up to fourth overall, just six seconds behind new race leader Bennati.
Howard only turned 20 in October and the Tour of Oman is his first race as a professional with HTC-Columbia. But he had the confidence and the form to go for the win.
"I'd only ridden one previous race with the pros, the Tour of Ireland last year, so to come here and beat some of the top guys in the peloton is an amazing feeling.
“I think it being a smaller group of riders like at today's finish was an advantage for me because I'm not so used to the big bunch sprints,” he explained. “That should come in the future.
"I didn't feel too well yesterday and went a bit early on stage two but today was different. Some of my teammates were caught out when the split happened and the front group got away, but we powered across the gap in about a kilometre. After that, I felt confident I could go for the win."
Daniele Bennati was surprised to be beaten in the sprint and shouted out 'Who's that?' when Howard went past him to win. Now he knows.