It was another nervous and crash-marred day at the Giro d'Italia with Orica GreenEdge involved in a number of incidents which occurred in the final hour of Stage 6 from Mola di Bari to Margherita di Savoia. Leigh Howard was the worst-off from the Australian team after crashing shortly after the bunch hit the first of the two 16km finishing circuits. Howard went over bars, landed on his left shoulder but managed to finish the stage in 169th position, 37-seconds behind stage winner Marck Cavendish (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step).
After the stage Howard was immediately taken to hospital for further diagnosis while his teammates Luke Durbridge, who is making his grand tour debut at the Giro, Christian Meier, Svein Tuft and Brett Lancaster were all nursing wounds after falling during the stage. Durbridge and Meier got tangled-up in the same fall as Howard with Lancaster and Tuft - celebrating his birthday - were involved in a crash that occurred shortly after the day's escapee-duo Jack Bobridge (Blanco) and Cam Wurf (Cannondale) were swept up.
"I went straight over my handlebars," explained Howard on his team site at the finish. "There wasn't anything I could to do to stop myself. I landed on my left shoulder, and I'm going to get x-rays now."
"It was a really nervous day today because of the wind, we always try to be cautious," added sports director Neil Stephens. "We noticed that Leigh seemed to be having difficulty holding his bars. Our team doctor is here at the finish, and he located the x-ray ambulance that the Giro organisation has here at the finish. Leigh is having a quick wash-up and then we’ll get him checked out. We expect to have more information by the time we reach the team hotel."
The news of Howard's condition surface a few hours later when the full extent of his injury was revealed. The 23-year-old has sustained a fracture to his left collarbone which according to a team statement, will not require surgery.
"X-rays confirm a clean fracture of the collarbone. No surgery needed. Leigh will not start stage seven of the Giro d'Italia. He expects to take ten days off the bike to heal," wrote his team.
It was Howard's second grand tour and first at the Italian three-week race. It was back in 2011 when riding for HTC-Highroad that Howard made his grand tour debut at the Vuelta a España. Orica GreenEdge had included the upcoming sprinter in the line-up to bolster the team's lead-out for sprinter Matt Goss.
The numerous crashes that disrupted Stage 6 meant Goss was left without the usual support in the high-speed and disorganised finale. Goss, who won the Australian team's first grand tour stage at the Giro in 2012 would eventually finish in third-place - behind Cavendish and Elia Viviani (Cannondale). After being discharged from hospital Howard spoke to his team about the disappointment of not being able to help his countryman scalp another win in Italy.
"I'm disappointed not to be lining up tomorrow, especially with a couple more sprint stages in the next two weeks. It would have been good to have a better crack at giving Gossy a better lead out to get him up for the stage win. Life goes on, and I'll look ahead to the next race," said Howard.